,?;,.!}' 10 PLJ BLIC LIBRARY
Chagal 1 , Bel la .
Burning light s
THIRTY-SIX DRAWINGS BY
Copyright 1946 by Marc Chagall
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American
Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by
Schocken Books Inc., New York. Distributed by Pantheon Books,
a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
First Schocken Paperback edition 1962
Translated by Norbert Guterman
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Chagall, Bella, 1895-1944.
[Brenendike likht. English]
Burning lights/Bella Chagall; thirty-six drawings by
Translation of: Brenendike likht.
1. Chagall, Bella, 1895-1944. Z.Jews-Byelorussian S.S.R.-
Vitebsk Biography. 3. Jews Byelorussian S.S.R. Vitebsk
Social life and customs. 4. Vitebsk (Byelorussian S.S.R.)
I. Chagall, Marc, 1887-1985. II. Title.
Manufactured in the United States of America
THE COURTYARD 13
THE BATH *5
THE MELAMMED 63
DAY OF ATONEMENT 82
SIMCHAT TORAH *o6
THE FIRST SNOW **5
THE HANUKKAH LAMP 12*
THE FIFTH LIGHT **6
HANUKKAH MONEY ^
THE SHOP J 54
PURIM GIFTS l &*
THE BOOK OF ESTHER * 75
THE PURIM PLAYERS 185
HUNTING FOR CHOMETZ 2O2
PASSOVER EVE 205
THE SEDER 22O
ELIJAH THE PROPHET 235
THE AFIKOIMEN 24!
TISHAH B'AV 244
A WEDDING 248
Bella Chagall <was born in Vitebsk, Russia, in a Has-
sidle family, on December i$ y 1895. Her parents
were Samuel Noah Rosenfeld and Alta, nee Levant.
She was the youngest of seven children.
After graduating from the Vitebsk Gymnasium for
girls, she became a student in the faculty of Letters
at the University of Moscow in 1912. In her student
years she contributed to the Moscow newspaper Utro
In 1914 Marc Chagall returned -from Paris to his
native Vitebsk. Marc and Bella Chagall, who had been
childhood friends, married in Vitebsk on July 25,
In 1922 the Chagall -family settled in Paris. Bella
translated into French and edited Marc ChagalPs auto
biography "My Life"
Bella Chagall visited Palestine in 1931 and Vilna in
1935* The contact 'with Jewish life impressed her so
deeply that she began to 'write in Yiddish.
Bella Chagall died at Cranberry Lake, N. Y., on
September 2, 1944.
IT is an odd thing: a desire comes to me to write,
and to write in my faltering mother tongue, which,
as it happens, I have not spoken since I left the home
of my parents.
Far as my childhood years have receded from me,
I now suddenly find them coming back to me, closer
and closer to me, so near, they could be breathing into
I see myself so clearly a plump little thing, a tiny
girl running all over the place, pushing my way from
one door through another, hiding like a curled-up
little worm with my feet up on our broad window
My father, my mother, the two grandmothers, my
handsome grandfather, my own and outside families,
the comfortable and the needy, weddings and funer
als, our streets and gardens all this streams before
my eyes like the deep waters of our Dvina.
My old home is not there any more. Everything is
gone, even dead.
My father, may his prayers help us, has died. My
mother is living and God alone knows whether she
still lives in an un- Jewish city that Is quite alien to her.
The children are scattered In this world and the other,
some here, some there. But each of them, in place of
his vanished inheritance, has taken with him, like a
piece of his father's shroud, the breath of the parental
I am unfolding my piece of heritage, and at once
there rise to my nose the odors of my old home.
My ears begin to sound with the clamor of the shop
and the melodies that the rabbi sang on holidays.
From every corner a shadow thrusts out, and no
sooner do I touch it than it pulls me Into a dancing
circle with other shadows. They jostle one another,
prod me in the back, grasp me by the hands, the feet,
until all of them together fall upon me like a host of
humming flies on a hot day. I do not know where to
take refuge from them. And so, just once, I want very
much to wrest from the darkness a day, an hour, a
moment belonging to my vanished home.
But how does one bring back to life such a moment?
Dear God, it is so hard to draw out a fragment of
bygone life from fleshless memories! And what if
they should flicker out, my lean memories, and die
away together with me?
I want to rescue them.
I recall that you, my faithful friend, have often in
affection begged me to tell you about my life in the
time before you knew me. So I am writing for you.
Our town is even dearer to you than to me. And
you, with your full heart, will understand even what
I shall not succeed in telling.
Only one thing torments me. My sweet little daugh
ter, who spent only a single year of her life in my
parental home and this as a one-year-old child will
she understand me? Let us hope that she will.
TN THE daytime after dinner our apartment is de-
JL serted. Everyone has gone out. A big place, and
no one there. One might as well bring in the goat
from the courtyard or the chickens in the cage under
Only from the kitchen there comes the clatter of
dishes being washed there.
"Have you swept the dining room?" The voice in
the kitchen pushes out Sasha with a long broom in her
"What are you doing here?' 5 she assails me.
"Nothing!" I answer as always.
"Get out, I have to sweep the room."
"Who is stopping you? Go ahead, sweep it!"
She sweeps up the floor, and with the rubbish she
sweeps out the last voices that have sounded in the
room. The dining room has gone cold now.
The walls suddenly are old, their faded paper
strikes the eye. The empty table stands like some
thing superfluous in the middle of the room. It seems
to me that I too am a superfluous thing here.
Where shall I take myself? I wander about in the
house. I come to the bedroom. The little beds, all cov
ered and smooth, stand there uninviting. Who would
lie down on them in the middle of the day?
Father's and mother's high beds are forbidding
with their nickel gleam. The nickel bars in front, in
back, their thick ball tops, guard them like sentries
When one comes closer to them, the nickel shoots
at one with its metallic glint. When I look into it,
my face is distorted, my nose is split. I run away from
it and I bump against a locked door. I have quite for
gotten that there is a parlor.
The door is always locked. I am always afraid of
that room. Since my brother's wedding, when for the
sake of the bride's family, the old Viennese chairs
were replaced with new, soft furniture, the parlor has
become unfamiliar it seems to have separated itself
from our apartment.
In the parlor it is dark. On the sofa lies a dense
moss of thick green plush. When anyone sits down
on it, even if it is only the cat, its steel springs utter a
groan, as though they were always sick and could not
bear to have anybody press them.
The rug too is green, as if grass were growing on
it. And the few pink flowers embroidered on it ward
one off; I fancy that the shadow of someone's feet
may be lying on the rug and will not let anyone
step on it.
Even the tall, long mirror has turned green. Night
and day the green furniture is reflected in it.
An old palm stands wretched near the window,
drying up in the green gloom. The window is always
closed, curtained; the palm never sees the sun.
Instead of the sun, there shine for it a couple of
bronze candelabras on their high stands in the cor
ners. Into the candelabras are stuck short white can
dles that are never lighted. From the ceiling hangs a
chandelier, also of bronze; only the dangling white
crystals make it alive. At night the palm thinks that
something shines for it from the ceiling sky, and that
little stars glimmer down from the crystal pendants.
It must be stronger than iron to hold out day after
day, months, years.
No one stops in the parlor. Everyone just quickly
crosses it like a bridge leading from one room to an
True, father prays there in the morning in his talis
and tefillin. Perhaps he thinks that he goes out to pray
on a green meadow. And during the day when he
goes there to look for a book in the bookcase, he does
not even glance at this piece of furniture.
The bookcase is the only old piece of furniture that
has remained in the parlor. It has been left where it
always stood, in a corner next to the door. Because it
is crammed full of books, it probably could not be
moved. Absorbed in its books, it stands there as
though it had no relation to all of the life of the house.
I approach it as though it were an old relative; I
touch it with a light tap, and its short legs begin to
creak. It is hard for them to support the whole book
I peer through its doors. There is shelf upon shelf,
each like a separate oratory. Here, in black boards,
hard on one another, turning their backs to the glass,
stand tall, lean gemaras, like old Jews lined up along
a wall for the Shemoneh Esreh.
On another shelf thick bibles and machzors, sid-
durs, and psalters spread themselves. So many wom
en's prayer books are piled on the lowest shelves that
one almost hears a murmur coming from there.
I fancy that all the books are upset because I am
gazing at them. I run away; they cry after me as my
old grandfather shouted at mother, asking why they
were teaching me Russian, why they did not rather
hire a teacher to teach me Yiddish.
"Oh," I suddenly remind myself, "my little teacher
will be coming soon, with whom I fall asleep over-
die alphabet." I must save myself from him.
"Where are you running like mad, Bashke?" Sasha
asks, stopping nie.
"What business is that of yours?" I fling back at
her. "Not anywhere."
I run out into the courtyard.
The balcony, although of iron, bends under my
feet. The bars are narrow and widely spaced, my
heels get stuck in the openings* The wall is high.
From below, from above, stairs ran up and down, one
twisting above the other. The handrails hold them
up like chains.
The uppermost stairs lead up to the glass-roofed
attic; a photographer lives there. The lowest stairs
wind down and stop almost in the middle of the
There, under the very lowest step, is my nook.
There I play, there is my shop, there I dry my cakes
of wet sand. There lie my tin cans that once held sar
dines; now they are filled with groats, oatmeal, all
kinds of little stones, shards, pieces of colored glass
everything that I find in the courtyard and every
thing that I save from being trampled upon by stran
The courtyard, small and square, is like a box
closed in by high walls. There a world of people is
living. The sun does not come there. Above, a patch
of sky gleams. Shadows of light fall from the walls.
All around are the windows and doors of the big
Hotel BrozL Each window belongs to a separate
apartment. From each a different head sticks out, and
every day it is a different one. As soon as a new guest
arrives, the curtain is lowered in the window.
"You see, little miss, new guests have arrived," says
the baker, who has come into the courtyard to cool
off. He points to the curtained window. "Very likely
they are just up from the train, and they are taking
a rest. You won't be noisy in the courtyard, little girl,
eh?" he says to me. He swallows a breath of fresh
air, and goes quietly back to the kitchen.
I do not have time to ask him. He might at least
tell me why all the travelers are tired. After all, it is
the train that runs, not they.
The old baker knows that I am afraid of him, afraid
of his flour-smeared face, of his high white cap and
I, noisy? Don't I sit quietly on the steps? It is noisy
enough in the courtyard without me. The hotel serv
ants scurry around there like mice. Back and forth-
one goes out, another goes in, one drags something,
another fills or empties something. Jewish women
come in from the street to sell eggs, chickens, cream.
This makes a hubbub.
The hens cluck. The cat crawls underfoot, seeking
a morsel of food. The dog comes running, his tongue
hanging out, his tail up in the air. That frightens the
cock and he tries to squirm out of the hands that hold
him. The cat hides in a corner.
The dog runs about over the whole courtyard,
sniffs everywhere, as though he were the chief stew
ard, who must give an accounting of everything to the
proprietor. The attendants jostle one another, ex
"Buy the cock," the street peddler begs them.
"Go with your cock to all the black years! He is
older than Terah!"
"God be with you! May my hands and feet dry up
if I am cheating you!"
"Get out of here, you old witch! Do you hear
what you're told? If you don't"
The old woman, as well as the cock in her hand,
falls silent. She stands there waiting: perhaps the goy's
wrath will subside. Now he is taking someone else to
"Where are you crowding in, you devil? You've
rolled my barrel right into the mud! "
"Who, what? You must be drunk, you dog's
snout! You're picking a fight with everybody. Just
wait, I'll show you"
"Hey, Piotr, Stepan!" Someone calls to them from
the kitchen. "May you both burn! Have you peeled
the potatoes? The cook is waiting"
The two goyim separate and run back.
"Piotr, take the cock with you!" The peddler runs
after them. "Show it in the kitchen. Just have it
roasted you'll see, you'll lick your fingers!"
No one listens to her. She screams her heart out.
Head hanging, she shoves her cock back into her
"Gla-a-sha-a-a-a! Where are you, eh?" Suddenly
there comes a call from the window, long drawn out,
like a whistle. "Gla-a-sha-a-a-a! Come here! Where
have you got lost? The lady in Number One is call
ing for you!"
Only the hotel laundresses, who iron Knen at the
open windows, do not revile one another. They sing f
as though the heat of their irons were warming their
hearts. Sometimes it seems that they are sobbing.
Their sad melody goes on and on, just as the pile of
linen thrown to them for ironing never grows less.
Suddenly the two young daughters of the landlord
run into the courtyard. They squeal with laughter. I
jump toward them, and jump away again at once.
The girls are spitting something for a moment I
think it is blood. They are cracking freshly cooked
red lobsters with their teeth.
"What are you doing? Fie!" I think in fancy that
they are swallowing bloody mice.
"Ivan!" they shout into the open stable. "Lead out
the horses, we are going for a ride at once!"
In the stable, two tall horses begin to neigh, an
swering their call.
The horses' black, fat rumps glisten as though they
had been polished with wax. Little tears of sweat roll
down their hide. Steaming, they kick up their legs,
shake their manes. Blindly they grope for the bag of
oats that the coachman has hung on the wall. They
poke their heads into the bag and fall asleep there.
Only their long necks throb and bend, like trumpets
thrust into the air.
The coachman's hair and boots also glisten with
grease. He stands by the horses, strokes them.
"Ivan," I say to him, "haven't you just come back
"Slu&hba me dmzhba~~& servant Is not a friend.
Isn't it so, my horse?' 5 says Ivan, giving the horse a
vigorous slap on the flank.
The horses each stick out an eye from the bag to
throw a glance at the coachman. Why doesn't he let
them eat? They vent their anger on the flies, lashing
out with their tails.
Their overheated legs cannot stay still Their knees
bend under them, then straighten out. Their hoofs
scrape the ground; they are trying to find out what
lies underfoot. Only a little while ago they were
galloping across the town. In a flash they dashed
through one street after another. And here in the
stable, as soon as they stir, there is the drag of the
heavy iron chains by which they are tethered to
"H-r-r-r," they whinny while they eat.
"M-m~mu m-m-mu," answers the cow from her
shed, and keeps on mooing.
I cannot restrain myself and I run to her.
The horses' stable is at least open, they always have
fresh air. But the cow is locked up like a thief in
A beautiful red animal and people are ashamed of
her. Her shed is dark, dirty; It is situated in the corner
of the yard, next to the garbage box. Its walls are
thin. The slightest wind blows through them. Rain
spatters in through the cracks. A large hole in the
door serves the cow as a little window. Through it I
gaze at her. She lies there without strength, her belly
and legs sunk into the dirty straw. A swarm of flies
are biting her. The cow does not stir; she might be a
pile of garbage.
Is she really such a lazybones? She does hear the
humming of the flies, and occasionally, reluctantly,
she raises her thin, long tail, all caked with mud, and
drives away the flies. Of her entire body, only the
head is alive.
Now one ear lifts, now the other droops. The cow
perceives every noise that comes from the courtyard.
In her quiet, day-long sadness, she slowly ruminates
each sound separately. She has a wet, weeping snout.
Her eyes are full of tears that stay in the corners.
Only now and then a tear rolls down her long nose. I
cannot endure her gaze. Like a heavy stone, it weighs
on my heart, as though it were my fault that she is
"M-m-mu m-m-mu," I whisper to her through
the dark hole.
u M-m-mu m-m-mu," she answers heavily and
slowly, and now stares at me with quiet joy because
someone remembers her. But she knows that it is not
I who will release her, who will open the door of her
So again her head droops sadly, and she lies there
until the hour of milking comes. As soon as she sniffs
the odor of the mush that they prepare for her with
boiling water, she gathers up her pendulous belly, her
legs, her udder, and takes up her post at the door. She
stands there snuffing the air, and waits, listening to
She hears Sasha throwing into the trough big pieces
of beets with long leaves, boiled potatoes, carrots. She
hears the maid pouring boiling water into it, mixing
the fodder, so that she, the cow, should not be scalded.
Her tongue begins to hang out. She thumps on the
door with her horns.
As soon as Sasha opens the shed, the cow runs out,
nimble, alive, stamping her feet, rolling her sides.
Crusts of dried mud drop from her. She does not look
at anyone. Only when she passes the carriage stand
ing without its horses in the middle of the courtyard,
the cow offhandedly gives it a push. It is her way of
jostling the horses because they get much more atten
tion than she does.
She crawls into the trough up to her neck, laps the
water, chews the greens. Her mouth drips and slob
bers. Her cheeks rise and fall. Her belly swells like a
blown-up bellows. Finally, still hungry, she licks the
empty trough clean with her fearsome tongue.
Then the servant goes up to her and gives her a slap
on the belly. The cow is startled by Sasha's warm
hand and allows herself to be milked.
"Wait, Bashutke, don't go away/' Sasha says to me,
"you'll soon be drinking a glass of raw milk."
Sasha knows that I cannot bear to hear the squeak
ing of the cow's teats as the milk gushes out and
streams into the pail, like lather, full of foam. It seems
to me that the milk tastes of sweat.
u No, Sasha, I have no time. Here comes my
teacher. I must go to my lesson,"
"Take at least a few drops!"
"Tomorrow I'll take some."
And I run away from her, laughing.
KR me the Sabbath begins as early as Thursday to
ward sunset. In the late evening, mother runs
quickly out of the shop as though trying to wrest her
self by force from the weekday bustle. While she is
still in the shop, I hear her calling out: "Bashke,
where are you? We're going to the bathhouse. Sasha,
is the linen ready? Hurry, hurry, I have no time!"
The maid quickly wraps up the bundle of linen and
ties it with a cord so heavy that the paper bursts. She
helps me to put on my coat and galoshes and tightens
my hood. I cannot breathe.
"You silly little girl, don't cry," she says, wiping
off the tears that well up in my eyes. "It's freezing
out and all I need is that you should catch a cold,
Almost furtively mother and I slip out through the
front door of our apartment, as though it were al
ready Saturday and the shop were closed. For mother
would be ashamed to go through the shop with the
bundle of linen under her arm, although it is wrapped
in yellow paper. But the shop is full of men, and be-
sides, who knows but that she might be detained there
again. We are in a hnrry, chiefly because it is late.
Indeed, mother has waited until the last moment to
go. The sleigh that is to take us to the bathhouse must
be waiting for us at the door. The driver, who Is al
ways the same one (he is in fact stationed across from
our house) knows that every Thursday evening, al
most at the same hour, mother drives to the bath
The cold, snowy evening at once envelops us in a
sheet of frost. In the sleigh, covered with the worn-
out fur blanket, I feel through mother's hand as she
holds me lest, God forbid, I should slide down that
she has already forgotten the shop and the bustle that
she has just left. She is carried away in the sleigh
somewhere into a pure air, as though she were already
beginning to tremble in awe of all the holy texts that,
God willing, she must recite before the Sabbath
We travel for not so long a time. The driver takes
us by a short cut, along the bank of a little river, the
Vitbe, near which stands the Jewish bathhouse.
Our sleigh tears silently through the shimmering
air. From the high bank of the river trembling little
lights are beckoning. This is the glow from Padlo, the
little market place, that lies up there on the heights.
I know the market very well, I know its shop
keepers and its little shops, sunk in the earth, and
especially the dairy shops. Before going down the
stone stairs to the dairy stalls, one had to call on the
Lord's help, so wet and slippery were they. And it
was cold there as in a grave.
The gray walls dripped water. One single little
lamp with a smoked-up glass served to light the whole
cellar. Its tiny beam barely reached the mounds of
yellow butter, the broad basin that held cream, and
even less did it reach the corners where they kept
hard, pointed Gomel cheeses, which stuck out like
little children's heads.
Only the high scales could be seen clearly. There
they were in the middle of the cellar like a throne.
Their iron chains swung in the air like two long black
braids of hair, and their two brass trays proudly held
a tiny bit of merchandise much as if they were sup
porting Justice herself.
The shopkeepers, in thick, greasy clothes, bustled
about in the cellar. With their fingertips sticking out
from their mitts they seized pieces of butter, poured
pitchers of milk, and tossed curds just as they would
snowballs. And while doing all this they yelled as
though someone were beating them from behind.
They were probably keeping warm in this way. From
time to time a coarse word shot through the stuffy
cellar. Curses flew out like little tongues of flame, set
ting ablaze one little stall after another.
"May the cholera take her, for the poisoned food
"A curse on my years, if I am lying!*'
The stallkeepers would begin to squeal like black
mice in their holes. The curses glowed hotter along
with the pots of hot coals outside, on which squatted
stocky Jewish women peddlers holding bags of
roasted beans under their shawls. The shopkeepers
reviled one another so warmly and lustily that their
dark cellars would grow almost cheerful.
All these cries now accompany us from afar as
mother and I drive to the bathhouse. The wind blows
a curse at us, tosses it about in the air. The falling
snow carries the curse down to the ground. And so
"Come back for us, God willing, in a couple of
hours," mother says to the driver, although he has
been doing this for years.
In the frame vestibule we bump into the ticket
seller, wrapped up like a bale of goods. At first she
does not stir from her place. One sees only the end of
her nose and the tips of her fingers. Next to the tick
ets there is a glazed apple and a pear. A bit of blue
kvassblue probably from the frost bubbles in a
The cashier, as though absorbing our warm breath,
slowly undoes her half -frozen mouth and gives us a
"It is cold to sit here the whole day," she says,
beginning to revive. "The wind is blowing from all
sides. A little more of this and one would freeze to
death before at last a living being came."
Mother encourages her with a smile and takes from
her an apple or a pear for me.
We push at the little door leading to the bath itself.
The noise of the latch being raised arouses a couple
of naked women resting under their shawls. Like
startled flies they jump up from their benches and
hum around us.
"Good evening to you, good evening, Alta, my
dear! So late! How are you, Alta? Are all the chil
dren well? How are you, Bashinke?"
The women touch me from all sides.
"Ah, you're growing up as on yeastmay the evil
eye spare you!"
They are warmed up, they have not waited in vain.
The shawls like black wings fall from their backs. Be
fore me there flashes the whiteness of their bodies.
Everything becomes purer, brighter, all about.
The heat of the anteroom leading to the bath min
gles with the cold outside air that has blown in. I can
hardly recognize the bath attendants, although they
are always the same. I used to think that every Thurs
day they had grown older, uglier. The younger one,
who still smells of her moldy shawl, seizes me at once
with her bony hands. "It's cold, isn't it?" she says.
"Well, have you unpinned your dress? Have you got
another one with you? Well, we'll put it in the box.
Now, hold out your legcome on!" She urges me
as if I were a colt.
And before I have time to look around me, all the
buttons of my shoes are unbuttoned, and the shoes
with my twisted stockings fly into the black box on
which I sit. My buttocks rise and fall with the lid of
the box. I have not even had a chance to see what goes
on inside the box, into which my belongings are
tossed as into a dark pit.
From the frosted window panes, coated over
with snow like a pair of blind eyes, a wind blows. I
shake from cold. The bath attendant snatches up my
sheet and wraps me in it. "Well, wait awhile!" she
says. "In a minute you'll be warm! See, we are going
to the bath at once."
I feel giddy. She drags me like a bewildered captive
straight over to the little door. "Do not fall, Bashinke,
God forbid," she says, pulling me with her steely
hands. "Walk slowly, it's slippery."
In the doorway to the bath my breath is cut off and
I allow myself to be dragged along, half in a faint. A
dense cloud veils my eyes. A little tin lamp hangs
from its bent hook high above the door. Its chimney,
tiny as it is, is still too large for it, and it wobbles in
all directions as soon as one touches the door.
I remain glued to the spot. I am afraid to move. The
floor is slippery, full of water. Water drips on my
feet, drips from the ceiling, from the walls; the whole
of the little house is sweating from the heat.
The attendant rushes to the buckets and rinses the
slippery bench on which I am supposed to sit. She has
no time to say a word to me. Her glistening, scrawny
rump twists like the tail of a cat.
Boiling water is poured out, seething. The buckets
near me immediately breathe their heat into my face.
The warmth of the bench soothes me and I allow
the attendant to put my legs into a bucket of luke
warm water. The woman comes closer to me. Her
breasts hang before my eyes like deflated windbags,
and her belly, with its skin taut like a drum, comes
just under my nose. I am penned up between the
buckets and the attendant's belly. I cannot turn, I
cannot even think of turning.
Her scratchy fingers gather up my long hair. With
one motion she heaps it on my head and begins to rub
it with a big cake of Zhukov soap. She pushes the
soap back and forth as though she were ironing
clothes with it on my head.
Buried under hair, my head whirling, I have no
time to think of crying. Smothering my tears, I pull
out the bits of acrid soap that cut and bite my eyes.
Soap gets into my ears, my mouth. Blindly I dip my
fingers into a bucket of cold water beside me.
I get down from the bench only when my hair is
rinsed. Long drops of water roll down into my eyes
and heal them. I catch my breath, straighten my back;
my eyes open.
I hear a creak of the door and on the threshold I
see my whitely nude mother. She is immediately en
veloped in the cloud of hot steam. Two attendants
hold her at either side. Little tears of sweat drip from
their hanging breasts and bellies. A thin little rain of
drops, condensed from the steam, suddenly trickles
from their hair behind their ears.
Silent and embarrassed, mother stands at the door.
Her attendants rush to the buckets, open wide all the
taps. They pass steam over the bench for her.
Mother calmly sits down and her body occupies
the whole bench. Exhausted from being scrubbed, I
hardly see her from where I am. She is ill at ease even
before me and lowers her eyes as soon as my glance
rests on her hair. Instead of her accustomed thickly
curled wig, I see her own short, scraggly hair. Smoth
ered for years without air under the heavy wig, it has
thinned out. I become sad, suddenly losing my own
strength, and allow myself to be washed without re
My attendant seizes my body, she even lays hands
upon my soul. She places me on the bench like a piece
of dough and begins to rub and pinch me; she might
be trying to knead a challa out of me.
I turn over on my stomach, and she gives me such
a whack on my bottom that I jump up.
"Well, what do you say, Bashinke? It's good, isn't
it?" says the attendant, suddenly recovering her
speech. "Look, how red you have become! It's a
pleasure to pinch you!"
Exhausted, I wait till I am rid of her. Suddenly I
am frightened by a flood of water poured on me from
behind. For a moment I am engulfed in the stream,
the water lifts me and carries me as though I were in a
river. This is the attendant rinsing me. From delight
and heat, I melt like white wax,
"Oof!" sighs the attendant, wiping her nose with
her wet hands. "You're shining just like a little dia
mond, Bashinke! May this give you health, my child! "
She looks at me with her glassy eyes, faded by the
water, and quickly wraps me in a warm sheet.
Surely she will at last dry herself off a little. She
slowly encircles me with her two arms as if I were her
white Sabbath candles that she must bless.
From a distance I watch what is being done to my
mother. Surely she has been soaped and rubbed just
as I have been, and surely she too has taken delight
in the buckets of lukewarm water. But she is not
through as quickly as I.
After the scrubbing the older attendant pushes a
low stool up to my mother and sits at her feet. She
puts a brass candlestick on a little box and lights the
piece of candle that is stuck in it. She fans the little
flame and begins to complain to mother about her
hard life. Her back sinks heavily, as though all her
troubles were heaped on it; her drooping head is at
mother's feet. "May God have mercy upon us and
deliver us from all pain," she says, lifting her eyes
from the ground. "So be it, Lord of the Universe!"
She must be trying to forget her own thoughts as
she picks at mother's toes. The little flame burns
brightly with each blessing she murmurs before cut
ting the nail. And her heart becomes more serene, it
seems, with each blessing. Mother, with lowered eyes,
watches what the attendant does to her feet, listens
to her patter. Behind the burning candle both are
fenced off from the dark bath chamber as within a
crown of light. Their heads are close together, their
white faces shine in a sort of purification.
Having cleaned mother's toes, the old attendant
raises her head and says in a low voice: "Now, Aha,
let us go to the mikvah!"
Mother swallows her breath as though the attend
ant had told a secret. The two rise slowly, straighten
their backs, sigh deeply, take a long breath as though
preparing to cross the threshold of the holy of holies.
Their white shadows vanish in the darkness.
I am afraid to go too. One has to pass a hot cham
ber where writhing souls lie in torment on long
benches. Steaming besoms swing out of the air and
lash them and spatter them with drops of hot water.
Heavy breathing comes from the benches, as though
all of them were being burned on hot coals. The heat
presses into my mouth, seizes me by the heart. "This
must be a hell for those who have committed many
sins!" I think to myself and run after my mother to
I stumble into a black chamber like a prison. On a
staircase stands the old attendant. In one hand she
holds the burning candle, from her other arm dangles
a large white sheet. Mother I have been so fearful
about her quietly descends the four slippery steps
and goes into the water up to her neck. When the
old Jewess cries out a blessing, mother is frightened.
Like one condemned, she holds her nose, closes her
eyes, and plunges into the water as though forever-
"Ko-o-o-sher!" cries the attendant, with the voice
of a prophet.
I am startled as by a thunderclap. Trembling, I
wait surely now lightning will strike from the black
ceiling and slay us all on the spot. Or perhaps a deluge
will pour from the stone wall and drown us in the
"Ko-o-o-sher!" the attendant cries out again.
Where is mother? The water does not splash any
more. But suddenly the pool splits open and mother's
head emerges. She shakes off water as if she were
coming up from the very bottom of the sea.
Three times the attendant cries out, and three times
mother sinks into the black water.
I am desperately waiting for the moment when the
attendant will stop shouting, so that mother will no
longer have to disappear in the water. After all, she is
tired by now. Water streams down from her hair,
from her ears. But she is smiling. Contentment spreads
over her whole body. She walks from the water as
from a fire, clean and purified. "May it do you good,
may it give you health," the attendant says, smiling too.
Her long, thin arms lift the sheet up high. Mother
wraps herself in it as in a pair of huge white wings,
and smiles on me like a white angel.
Dressed, all finished with my steaming* I chew my
glazed apple, which has long since melted from the
heat, and wait for mother. At once she begins to
hurry, as though she recalls suddenly that it is a week
day, that the shop is still open. The sanctity and the
warmth of the bath slip from her. She is in a hurry to
get dressed. The women tell her thek last tales of
trouble, while one hands her dress to her, the other a
shoe. They are probably afraid to leave anything un
told, lest they should have to wait until the following
Thursday to unburden their hearts. With trembling
hands they wrap up our bundle of linen, and they
wrap me too like a bundle. Swollen with warmth, I
can hardly move.
Mother distributes her tips and listens to the long
benedictions with which the women send us off.
"May it give you health, dear Altai Till next Thurs
day, if God wills! Keep well, Bashinke! May it do
you good!" One woman shouts louder than another,
and all of them quickly cover themselves with their
The door opens as of itself. For a moment we stop
on the threshold. What cold! Snow is falling from the
black sky. Stars glimmer, and snowflakes. Is it day or
night? To my eyes all is white and cold. The driver
and his horse have grown into a high white mountain.
Are they frozen? "May you have health!" the driver
says with a smile.
His wet mustache comes unglued from his mouth.
Little lumps of snow fall from his thick eyebrows.
The horse awakens to life and begins to neigh.
"God speed you!" Voices call to us from the door
of the bathhouse.
The sleigh starts.
"Hup, hup!" The driver lashes at his thin horse.
Even faster than when she left, mother runs in at
the front door and leaves her bundle of linen there.
The smell of our apartment and of the shop hits her
in the face.
"God alone knows what has gone on here in my
absence!" With a look of guilt, she hastens to wash
her reddened face and then hurries to the shop.
I am regretting that the warm bath has ended so
FROM the very morning, Friday begins differently
from any other day.
For breakfast, we find on the wide window ledges
in addition to the flat cakes, rolls, and biscuits a
pile of stuffed tsybulnikes. On Friday no dinner is
cooked. Instead of hot food, everyone gets a tsybul-
nik pressed into his hand. Big, thickly filled with fried
onions, just as an oven is filled with red coals, the
tsybulnik can barely be held in one's hand. The first
bite pastes one's mouth shut, and the dough sticks in
one's gullet until it is washed down with a glass of
"Never mind, you can eat it, you'll have time to
get hungry again before supper," Sasha the maid
On the eve of Sabbath our home is in a bustle all
day long. From early morning there is chopping of
onions. The kitchen is like a mill There is fire in the
stove. Havah is cooking. Now she bakes chalk, then
she plucks chickens. Soft feathers pile up in her
apron, fly around her head like little chicks fluttering
their wings. Havah chops the mound of peeled onions
in a small trough until they are transformed into a pile
of wet hash.
Havah's eyes grow wet. It seems that all of us smell
of onion. Odors, one sharper than another, pervade
A thick, long fish wriggles in a bucket of water.
With widened gills he heavily sucks up the drops. His
last strength goes down to his tail, with which he
splashes the whole bucket. Having spattered out the
water, puffed out his final breath, the fish lies there
with gaping mouth. His pointed fins stab one's eyes.
It is as though not one fish but a whole netful has
been scattered on the kitchen floor, and each of them
wants to snap at us, bite our feet. The cook stands like
an executioner before the outstretched pike. His skin
still shines with drops of water. She holds the fish by
his tail. He slips on the wet board. The cook seizes
the cleaver and thrusts it into the plump belly of the
fish. Clots of blood fall out. The fish bursts, The cook
mercilessly cuts him to pieces. She separates the flesh,
removes the skin.
Hashed onions and soaked challa fill the fish with
new blood. The stuffed pieces of fish, sprinkled with
water, look almost alive. They leap seemingly of their
own impulse into the copper pan and are boiled
slowly on a small fire until they grow yellow and red.
The smell tantalizes us, tickles our noses. It brings us
the first taste of Sabbath.
No one stays in his place any longer. The rebbe
hurries to the bath with my younger brothers. Sasha
busies herself in the dining room, rummages in the cup
boards, teases one dawdling brother. "Well, you've
had enough tea!" she says. "I must polish the samovar,
it will be Sabbath soon!"
"Why do you bother me?" he protests. "You don't
even let me drink a glass of tea! A new rebbetzin, of
Sasha, who has been with us for years, strictly ob
serves the dietary laws about meat and milk foods and
keeps the Sabbath like her own Sunday. Without a
word, turning her back on my brother, she snatches
the samovar from the table, takes under her arm the
long tray and the drip bowl full of drops that have
trickled down, snatches out of his hand the sugar box
and a spoon. Laden like a donkey, she carries all these
things to be scrubbed and polished in the kitchen.
On her way she runs into Havah, who walks heav
ily on her thick legs. With both hands Havah is hold
ing up a large board, as though she had lifted up the
floor and were carrying it before her. On the board,
which is sprinkled with flour, are two or three plaited,
glazed Sabbath loaves, sitting there like empresses.
Smaller challas are arrayed around them. All their
little heads are decked with thin, twisted braids. At
the very edge of the board there is just room for a
tiny challa that the cook has plaited for me from a
leftover bit of dough. Just out of the oven, all the
chalks glisten with bronzed cheeks that might almost
have got their tan from the sun.
The cook gazes at them and delights in them. She
does not want to let them go. "Thanks be to God,
the challas turned out well!" she says, smiling and
The challas slide slowly from the board onto the
window ledge. Havah puts a towel under them and
covers them with another towel, as though she feared
that an evil eye might spoil them. Swelled with heat,
the challas are smothered in their own vapors, and
cool off slowly.
Father enters, sits down at the table, draws a pen
knife out of his pocket (how does father happen to
have a penknife?) and unfolds a piece of tissue pa
per. He puts his hands on the table and begins to cut
his nails. He cuts them slowly, all round, in half-
moons. The nails drop, rattle on the paper. Father
wraps them into a little packet and with a blessing on
his lips casts them into the stove. He watches how the
packet burns and returns to the shop.
"Havah, give me a piece of bread," pleads a Jewish
beggar woman, edging into the kitchen.
She is covered with rags; there is one worn-out
shawl on her head, another on her shoulders. Her
little face is wrinkled like the folds of her dress. Her
small forehead is pushed up into the shawl; tangled
knots of gray hair droop from under the shawl like
dust. Only the eyes glow out from the grayness, like
the last pieces of smoldering coal from a heap of
ashes. The beggar woman remains standing at the
door and screens off all the light from outside. She
knows that she is late and she is afraid of the cook.
She gives a low sigh.
Havah is fussing with the stove and suddenly she
sniffs: she has smelled sour mold. She turns around.
"So you've slept well!" she exclaims. "Thank God,
here is another one! Who can take care of all of you?
What is today, the eve of a new month, or what? All
the poor people of the town have been here!"
The beggar woman stands with an air of guilt,
lowering her eyes. Havah's voice changes: "You
couldn't come earlier? It's almost time to bless the
candles now! Take this it'll get stale anyway before
shalesh sudes." Havah grumbles on and sticks half a
loaf of bread in the woman's bosom.
"You know," I say to the pauper woman, as though
it were a secret, "in front of our shop one of our boys
She gives me a warm look she has surely been
there already, for she comes every Friday and with
out a word she quietly leaves the kitchen.
Sasha seizes a pail of water, as if she had to wash
the floor clean of the poor beggar woman's presence.
First she runs to the dining room, throws off her bat
tered slippers, and stands barefoot in the middle of
the room. She looks this way and that, tucks up her
skirts, one after the other, hanging them up on her
self as it were, swishes her wet rag, and runs all over
the floor. Water drips from the pail, from the rag,
wets Sasha's white feet.
"Sasha, wait a minute!" I cry to her. "Why do you
spout like a fountain? Ill climb on your back and so
cross the river of water!"
"Bashke, you crazy child, jump down, at once!
You're dirtying my boards all over. Do you hear? If
not, I'll give you such a smack on your behind! Oh,
what are you doing! Don't tickle me that way! And
you're scratching like a cat!" She suddenly straight
ens her back and I slide down on the wet floor.
"Aha, you've got your punishment? Better come
help me push apart the table. You see! It's getting
We push apart the big dining table and put in the
boairds. The table grows so long that no matter how
much I stretch my arms I cannot reach the other end
of it. A white, shining-white tablecloth gives a crackle
and runs over the whole table. In a moment, the legs
of the table vanish. The ends of the cloth fall down
and hang in folds as in a festoon. Sasha runs after me.
"Bashutke, where are you?" she calls. "Here,
hang up the towels, each on its nail."
"The napkins are still herewhat shall I do with
"Put one on father's Sabbath bread."
I go to father's place and cover the Sabbath bread
as one covers a bride with a veil.
At the other end of the table mother's great five-
branched silver candlestick is already in its place.
Probably to make a lucky number, two single-
branched candlesticks are added. In all the seven
sockets long white candles are swaying. Beside moth
er's candlestick my own little candlestick seems hardly
able to stand on its short legs. Father gave it to me
as a gift. Its scratched silver is carved like a transpar
ent cobweb. The little socket has a shield piece under
it, where later my candle will die drop by drop.
The table, like a white dream palace, stands so calm,
it might be awaiting something. Suddenly the fringes
of the tablecloth begin to flutter. From somewhere a
distant noise reaches me. I hear the shutters of the
shop falling. The unrolling metal screeches. Thank
God, the shop is being closed at last! I make out the
voices of the employees, hastening home. "Go now,
leave everything! You might miss your streetcar!"
This is mother speeding the cashier, who lives at the
edge of the town and is in the habit of lingering in the
shop longer than anyone else.
Now father comes in. I stand waiting for him as for
a guest. "Bashke, don't you know where I can find a
clean collar and a pair of cuffs?" he asks,
"Here, father, they're on the dressing table."
Father passes by the mirror, turns away his head;
he has seen his face in the mirror.
"What a nuisance! Why are the buttonholes ironed
in so tightly that there's no way of pushing a button
through?" Father sweats and chokes in getting on his
"Father, do you want me to ask Sasha for another
"Who has time for that? We must soon go to
Sasha brings in the samovar, lights the lamp. The
polished samovar boils and bubbles like a locomotive.
The hanging lamp spatters fire. It is now warm and
light all around. Father sits at the table quietly taking
sweet tea with jam.
The last to leave the shop is mother. She tries all
the doors once more to see that they are locked. Now
I hear her paltering steps. Now she shuts the metal
door of the rear shop. Now her dress rustles. Now
her soft shoes slip into the dining room. In the door
way she halts for a moment: the white table with the
silver candlesticks dazzles her eyes. At once she be
gins to hurry. She quickly washes her face and hands,
puts on a clean lace collar that she always wears on
this night, and approaches the candlesticks like a quite
new mother. With a match in her hand she lights one
candle after another. All the seven candles begin to
quiver. The flames blaze into mother's face. As
though an enchantment were falling upon her, she
lowers her eyes. Slowly, three times in succession, she
encircles the candles with both her arms; she seems to
be taking them into her heart. And with the candles
her weekday worries melt away.
She blesses the candles. She whispers quiet benedic
tions through her fingers and they add heat to the
flames. Mother's hands over the candles shine like the
tablets of the decalogue over the holy ark.
I push closer to her. I want to get behind her bless
ing hands myself. I seek her face. I want to look into
her eyes. They are concealed behind her spread-out
I light my little candle by mother's candle. Like
her, I raise my hands and through them, as through a
gate, I murmur into my little candle flame the words
of benediction that I catch from my mother.
My candle, just lighted, is already dripping. My
hands circle it to stop its tears.
I hear mother in her benedictions mention now one
name, now another. She names father, the children,
her own father and mother. Now my name too has
fallen into the flame of the candles. My throat be
"May the Highest One give them his blessing!"
concludes mother, dropping her hands at last.
"Amen," I say in a choking voice, behind my fin
"Good shabbes!" mother calls out loudly. Her face,
all opened, looks purified, I think that it has absorbed
the illumination of the Sabbath candles.
"Good shabbes!" answers father from the other
end of the table and rises to go to shul
"Good shabbes!" cries the cook from the kitchen.
Havah likewise has taken her two brass candlesticks
from the shelf and has stuck a couple of short candles
in them. The well-used table is covered with a small
white tablecloth the toilworn kitchen is unrecog
nizable. The white tablecloth and the two white can
dles have given it rest.
Every kitchen object is put away or hung up In its
place. Even the stove has been sealed with a black
sheet of metal. The front part of the stove is cleared
of pots and pans. The walls are whiter, they have
dried of their sweat. Every corner is swept clean,
scrubbed. It is Sabbath.
Havah sits at the table; she does not know what to
do with her empty hands. She is suddenly seized with
sadness. She feels like being alone, in order to be
something of a mistress at least for a little while.
"Sasha, go out for a moment," she says to the gentile
maid, pointing with her eyes to the door.
Havah, left alone, lights the candles. She has lived
for many years with strangers, has grown up among
them; she recalls that she too once had a father, a
mother, her own home.
"Baruch ha-Shem, blessed be thy Name. God did
not want to bless me with my own household I must
have sinned." She drops a tear. Her eyes seem to
merge with the candlelight, "But praise be to the
Highest that I am living with respectable people, in a
Jewish household. After all, we are Jews. Ah!" and
she sighs "I had a prayer book somewhere. Where
have I put it? Without a holy word, night and day
with the shikse, I might become benighted." She finds
her grease-stained prayer book, opens it, and blesses
her candles aloud.
Everyone has gone to shul. Mother and I are alone
at home. The white table with the candles is illu
mined for us alone. It seems to me that the sky too
has been warmed by the candles and is peeping in at
the window. Mother is sitting under the twinkling
overhead lamp and is praying quietly. Her benedic
tions are a murmur; occasionally a candle gives a
sigh. My own little candle has almost completely
burned down. I move closer to the wall and begin
to say the Silent Prayer.
The wall breathes, breathes as if it were alive. I
want to grow into it. I am afraid to touch it, even
with the prayer book in my hand. Now voices re
sound in the entrance hall. There are my brothers,
who have come back from shul. They are bustling at
the door, outshouting one another. "Well, how did
you like the cantor? He was in a hurryyou'd have
thought the house was on fire!"
"And have you at least said the whole of the Silent
"I? I stood near Uncle Berel and he began to spit."
"Ah, you're an uncouth fellow, Israel! Better help
me to pull out my sleeve, the lining has suddenly got
twisted up like a Turkish beigel."
"Come, come, it's your brain that's twisted!"
They throw their coats at each other.
Mendel dreams, off at one side: "If I am called
tomorrow to the scroll of the Law"
"Then you'd shake like a broom," Abrashke fin
ishes for him.
"Sh-sh!" the rebbe hurls at them as he enters our
apartment. "All you can do is make mock of every
thing! At least say 'Good shabbes,' shkutsim!"
The rebbe grumbles in a low tone, calmly; his
weekday fever seems to be suspended in honor of the
Why do they, my brothers, always come back
from shul so excited? They have to be driven to go
there "It's late, go to shul!" After they are back,
they never stop laughing. They have enough stories
for the whole week. What goes on there in shul? And
what does father do there, staying such a long time?
He always comes back last. Probably he is dis
turbed by the men who pray in loud tones. And so
father stands up to say the Silent Prayer when
everyone else is preparing to go home. Even on Fri
day nights he stays in shul for a long time. After
everyone has left, it is quiet there only a couple of
flies hum around the burning lamps.
Father, alone in his place at the east wall, sways
from side to side, like the tree in the yard of the shul,
near the window. He prays in a low voice, with
closed eyes; he appears detached from the world. His
sentences are whispered, then they take wing around
him. From a distance the shames watches him. The
shames is a thin little man, thin against the thick books
piled up on the little table near him.
The shames himself has finished his prayers long
before. He finishes first, in order that his betters need
not wait for him. And so he sits silent as the wall and
waits for father. When father rocks himself, the
shames too rocks in his corner. When father utters a
groan, the shames sighs too. When the shames hears
father shuffling his feet, he gets up at once. When
father moves away from the wall, the shames jumps
up from his bench. "Good shabbes, good shabbes,
Reb Shmul Noah!'' he exclaims, running toward
him, pleased that father has finished the Silent Prayer
and that he himself will be able to take rest for a
"Good shabbes!" father answers, still dreamily, and
spits out toward all three sides. The shames helps him
to put on his coat.
"Reb Shmul Noah," the shames says in a low voice,
"in the courtyard there are still a couple of soldiers,
sons of respectable Jews, among strangers!"
"What are you saying?" Father comes to life. "Go
quickly and tell them not to go away, let them come
with me. A Jewish child without the Sabbath supper!
Father is embarrassed over getting home late.
"Good shabbes!" he says, entering the room hur
riedly, "Alta, I've brought some decent, respectable
Jews. Ask them to supper." He calls to mother and
points to the two soldiers, who have shyly remained
standing in the doorway.
My brothers fall silent and gaze at the guests.
Abrashke cannot restrain himself and jumps toward
them. The glittering military buttons dazzle his eyes*
He cannot sit still, he must touch each thing sepa
"Let me put on your belt, will you? And where is
My brothers drag the soldiers to their end of the
table. Father goes to wash his hands. Three times he
pours water from the heavy copper jug on each hand
separately, and slowly he wipes each finger. After
him my brothers rush to the washstand. Each tries to
wrest from the other the bit of water remaining in the
jug after father has finished. They tear the towel
from each other's hands.
The chairs are pushed away, pushed back. Each
stays in his place by some compulsion.
"Sh-shah!" father cries out. "What's that quarrel
ing on the Sabbath? You ought to be ashamed, before
strangers! Well, enough kiddush!" He points to the
goblet filled with wine.
Everyone rises. There is silence. The cook places
herself in the doorway. Father waits awhile, as though
gathering strength. The silver goblet, all engraved
with black little flowers, sways like a full bucket in
his hand. The wine spills over his fingers, spatters the
white tablecloth. Father pushes the goblet more
firmly Into his hand and now holds it with all five
fingers. He sways once to one side, then to the other.
He begins the klddush. With closed eyes father whis
pers the benedictions; they might be coming out of
the goblet. His wide forehead is wrinkled up. His
voice changes to a tune that becomes infused with the
wine. And like the tune the wine grows richer, more
glowing. The tune rocks us too as we stand silently.
"Amen!" Father raises the goblet to his mouth and,
with his eyes still lowered, drinks off a little of the
"Amen!" all of us answer in one voice.
"Amen!" echoes the cook from the door and rushes
back to the kitchen.
Mother silently swallows a few drops of wine and
whispers: "We have lived to see the Sabbath, all of
us are in good health. Thanks be to the Highest!"
"Say a blessing, Bashinke!" She suddenly remem
bers and gives me a sip from the goblet.
The wine stings my mouth.
I sit in my corner as usual between father and
mother. Their breath blows into my face. Occasion
ally father's beard strokes my shoulder. A drop of
wine has remained hanging on his mustache, it is as
though the kiddush cup with its wine had pressed the
blood to his lips.
"Do you want to say kiddush?" Father offers the
cup to the elder soldier, and the drop of wine from
his mustache falls on me.
u No, thank you!" The shy guest blushes and clears
"Well, now the blessing on the bread!" Father says
the benediction over the loaves and cuts them into
A tableful of hands stretch out toward father. Then
suddenly everyone's eyes are fixed on the maid enter
ing the room. There is a whiff of onion and pepper.
Sasha, her face flushed, because everyone is waiting
for her, slowly carries to mother the platter of fish.
Like a boat it sways in her hands. The pieces of fish
are piled on so thickly that it is hard to turn them
over. One portion jostles another, clings to the other.
The pieces stand frozen in the pond of jellied sauce
that moistens them underneath.
"Mother, give me the round piece, the one near the
Mother pries up one piece of fish after another,
places them on the plates. Her hand does not come to
rest. The heads around the table bend over the plates.
There is chewing, smacking. On some plates the fish
bones begin to appear. And mother keeps on dealing
out portions. Suddenly father wipes his mouth and
asks the soldiers: "Where are you from? Have you
parents? What is their trade?"
The soldiers raise their bent headsthey are busy
picking the bones then look frightened as though
they had been caught unawares. They stammer with
their mouths full.
My brothers begin: "Listen, what are you told to
do in the barracks? Are your officers kind to you?
Aren't you beaten? And where do you sleep? Can
you hold a gun?"
The two soldiers, being fired at from all sides, push
away their plates. They do not know what to do,
whom to answer first, whether or not to resume eat
ing in order to avoid having the others wait for them.
"Children, let the guests alone! Why do you set
upon them like that? This way we won't get through
supper before midnight!"
A large bowl of soup is brought in. Steam mounts
from it. It holds golden chicken soup; red veins of
saffron swim in it, kernels of rice drift about in it,
and two white boiled chickens lie there lifelike.
"Mother, may I have the gizzard?" Abrashke jumps
Mother gives him a look: "Well, this one doesn't
forget himself!" She turns to me. "Here, my child,
take a leg. And here is some more tsimes. You like
sweet tsimes, don't you?"
Red, flaming little carrots smile at me from my
"And who wants a wing?"
The two wings stretch out from mother's hands a
bird ready to fly away. Mother divides the chicken
in pieces. One gets a neck, another a wing. She has
hardly time to take her own portion.
All of us are foundered. Our eyelids are sticking
together. The tablecloth is full of stains. The feast
dies out together with the candles.
Saturday after dinner. Our house is asleep. Only
Havah the cook is awake. All week long she waits for
the Sabbath, and when it comes she thinks that it will
not end, that she will have time to go over all her
dresses, boast of the gifts she has received, change
clothes, and go out for a walk, and walk without ceas
ing. She opens her chest and vanishes in it. She airs
out, fingers, rummages in the pile of clothes as in a
pile of her years.
"You see, I received this gift last Passover. The hat
belonged to my former mistress, who"
"You've dawdled enough! Everyone else has long
been walking in the street!" The gentile maid makes
fun of her.
"Can I go out this way? What shall I wear?"
All furbished up as for a wedding she has become
three times as fat the cook can hardly stand on her
legs. Her new shoes pinch. But she stands there, all
billowed up, already feeling the eyes of the people in
the street upon her.
"Tell me, Sasha, will anyone recognize that I'm a
She brandishes the small tin mirror, touches herself
all over. "Here, look-it's real silk!"
She pulls up her dress, straightens her hat, which is
all stuck over with flowers, and walks slowly across
the threshold, as though beyond it she would instantly
enter a new world.
Now the whole street will stare at her. Everyone
will turn around to have a look at her dress, her hat,
and who knows perhaps this Sabbath she will finally
meet the man destined to be her husband. She gives
herself a shake as she stands and says to the gentile
maid in the tone of a mistress: "Sasha, when the
masters get up, serve them the jug of tea."
A few hours later she returns from her walk, more
tired than she would be from a whole week of work.
The house is now full of people who have come for
the third meal. They hum the Rabbi's Song. One ex
plains to another: "What is the text? The rabbi has
It seems that they are having a dispute. When they
are served cold fried fish, they cool off at once.
Sunset is approaching. Father looks out of the win
dow, finds the first little star that has risen in the blue
sky with the new moon. He goes out. Big father
grows quite little under the heavenly moonlight. I
trail after him: "Father, will you light the havdalah?"
We return to the house. I hold the wax candle. It is
twisted like a heavy chain, imbued with weekday
sweat. Its flame is heavy and thick. Father snuffs out
the candle in the wine splashes at the edge of the table.
"Gute wochmay you have a good week!" says
mother pensively. Her face is already covered with
weekday grayness. "May it really be a good week!"
THE old teacher who comes to give us lessons sidles
through the yard like a shadow. My heart sinks
Small, short, he almost presses himself into the wall,
as though he feared that he might touch someone. His
worn-out coat, of a black-green color, hardly wraps
around his narrow shoulders. His little plucked goatee
"Well, Bashinke?" He squeezes out a smile. "Have
you memorized the alphabet? Go call Abramele.
Today we'll study well, won't we?"
"Abrashke, Abrashke, the teacher has come!" I run
into the apartment, calling.
But my brother probably sighted the teacher be
fore I did. He whispers to me from the little room
into which he locks himself each time the lesson hour
comes: "Go pour a glass of tea with jam in the mean
"But you'll come, won't you?" I whisper through
the crack in the door. "I can't stay alone with the
teacher for the whole time."
"Go, get away from here. I'll come right away.
Tell him I have a tummy-ache."
The teacher goes to the table.
u Ugh!" he inhales, sighs, blows his nose, wipes his
spectacles, and takes snuff. Perked up, he opens the
book that he always carries with him.
"Well, where are you, children?" He turns his
head but does not remove his finger from the line.
"Here I am, teacher! Here is a glass of tea. Do you
want it, teacher?" I put a glass of hot tea with jam
near the book.
The vapor of the tea clouds his spectacles. The
sweet fragrance of cherry juice titillates his nose.
The teacher sips a few drops, warms up. He does
not put the glass back until he has finished drinking
"Teacher, do you want another glass?" I do not
wait for an answer and run away with the glass in my
"Where is Abramele? Is he at home?" And the
teacher begs me not to bring him any more tea.
"Yes, teacher, I am going to call him. He said he'd
come right away."
"Abrashke!" I knock at his door. "The teacher is
waiting for you. Come out!"
"Have you given him tea? And jam?"
"Of course a couple of glasses, even. He is already
sick from the jam. I'm scared. Come out, at least
"Is it my fault? I can't come out. Now I've really
got a tummy-ache."
I know that Abrashke is lying. Nothing is wrong
with him. He only wants to dawdle there through the
I return to the teacher. He sits embarrassed by his
"Teacher, perhaps you'd like another glass of tea?
I've just had new hot coals added under the samovar,"
And before he can collect himself, I snatch the glass
from his hand,
I am ashamed to put it on the table. I am ashamed
to look the teacher in the eye. The steam of the hot
tea blows straight up into his face. His eyes begin to
Suddenly I am overcome by fear that the old man
will faint on the spot from the heat. Even now he sits
as though he had no strength, his eyes closed, his head
I look at the teacher, and do not recognize him he
has suddenly become very old.
Of his whole body hidden behind the table, only
his little head with the goatee can be seen. But now I
notice that his face is tired out, that his neck is thin.
He is yellow, from the yellow page in the book that
has remained lying open on the table. His mustache
and the tips of his fingers are yellow, too, worn from
pinching snuff ,
Is he really so old? Does his coat too smell of old-
"Perhaps," I think to myself, "the teacher won't be
able to get home by himself. Perhaps we should ask
his relatives to come for him. Does anyone know
where the teacher lives? Has he children? Are they
as bad as we are? He has no one." And my heart
begins to pound the teacher is alone in the world,
like a stone.
I am glad that the old man is asleep, that he does
not see how I have become red in the face. I fancy
that he has sunk into sleep not because of all the
glasses of sweetened tea, but from grief because we do
not want to study with him. He is such a quiet man,
he wants to teach us at least the alphabet, bring us, as
he says, to a page of the Bible.
Then why is he afraid to be firm with us? It would
be better if he shouted at us! After all, we are not
the parents his employers, as he says.
We are wicked! Only when the teacher is asleep
do we pity him!
I feel like saying to him that beginning today (I
can swear it by anything) I will study well, that I will
no longer bring him so many glasses of tea. I am afraid.
My whispering is too noisyI might waken the teacher
from his sleep. So I remain sitting quietly in my place.
"Oh!" I remind myself. "Abrashke might just at
this moment jump out of his little room and waken
the teacher! Let the old man at least take a good nap
in our house! He probably studies the Torah at night
and does not sleep enough,"
Suddenly through the open window I catch the
smell of sweet chocolate boiling. The odor Is so
strong that I glance at the teacher to see whether It
has not wakened him. The aroma is like a sweet cloud
around my head. It pricks my tongue, tickles my
nose. I am getting drunk.
I am annoyed to think that I am not in the court
yard just now. I know that the chocolate is boiling in
the kitchen of the confectionery, the Jean Albert,
which is situated under our own kitchen. They use
the chocolate for icing the cakes they bake.
If I could only show myself now, the bakers would
be calling me over to them. They would be giving
me the big wooden ladle with which they stir the
chocolate, to let me lick it. The old baker of whom I
am so afraid outside in the courtyard is sweeter when
he is inside his warm kitchen than the cakes that he
shapes so skillfully. He smiles with those black teeth
of his that are worn out from eating sugar. His white
apron is stained, smeared with all the creams with
which he covers the cakes.
I see the baker raising to his mouth a twisted, long
horn. From the horn a colored dense cream blows
out, and on the cake waiting under it a red flower
is turned out here, a green leaf there.
The baker puffs on another horn, and a little angel
with wings jumps onto the very top of the cake. He
takes a wooden spatula in his hand and smooths out
the little angel, smooths the cake on all sides. Sweet
crumbs drop from it.
The baker knows that I look upon him as a magi
"Beautiful, isn't it?" He smiles. "Do you want the
I am waiting for the scraps. He crams fistfnls of
sweet crumbs into my hands.
I open my hand there is nothing in it. I look about
the teacher is asleep.
Ah, when will he finish sleeping? This way I'll
miss the sweet crumbs. It will be late, and I won't
be able to go to the confectioner's dark kitchen.
Shall I run out for a while? And what if the teacher
should suddenly wake up?
"Sh-sh-sh!" I hear a swish suddenly, like the whis
tling of a wind. What is that? Is it not just the teacher
whistling through his nose? I look out of the window.
I almost fall flat. From above, from the photogra
pher's apartment, there is a downpour of many little
Crumpled, they fly, turn over, fall down to the
stairs, over the courtyard; they might be white little
doves fluttering down there. I stretch out my hands,
trying to snatch at one of the little pieces of paper.
I know that they are pictures that the photographer
is throwing out. Yellow, pale, speckled in some the
eye is pierced, in others the cheeks are broken; one
can hardly make out a whole person on any of them.
There sits a girl with goggling eyes, as though she
were choking In the high collar that peaks up Into her
ears. There stands a soldier with long mustaches, with
frightened eyes he may be seeing a general from afar
off, scolding him.
A little cardboard falls into my hand. I look at it.
Thank God IVe caught it!
It has a naked baby lying on a piece of sheet. Al
though the baby is as plump as a piglet, it would have
broken its little head if it had fallen on the ground.
"Play with me! Smile at me!" I fancy that the
baby begins to smile.
And now a picture crammed with people falls into
my hand. How could the photographer have the
heart to throw them out all together?
A whole family In a single picturea grandfather
and a grandmother, and another grandmother, an
uncle and an aunt, a father and mother, sons and
daughters, married folk and little girls, tiny children.
There were not enough chairs to seat them all. So
those who are standing up behind are angry. Children
are sitting on the floor.
Once I looked and looked at such groups and could
not restrain myself. I went to ask mother why we too
should not have our pictures taken all together.
"After all, the photographer is living in our house,"
I said. "And we could see ourselves on the display
panel that hangs across from our shop."
Mother gave me a look, "Are you crazy," she ex
claimed, "out of your mind? Have you nothing else
to think about? Out of a blue sky, we are to have our
pictures taken, like the shikses with their soldier boys?"
Why does mother shout like that? Wasn't grand
father photographed once? True, he had to be hood
winked: he was told, while he was standing quietly
behind the counter, that he must not move from the
spot, that the shop was being measured. Why then
shouldn't the photographer in our house be asked to
measure our shop, and while this is being done take a
picture of all of us?
"Bashke!" Finally Abrashke runs out of his little
room with a shout. "Has the teacher gone?"
"S-sss!" And I make signs to him with my hands,
in fright. "Stop yelling-the teacher is asleep!"
But Abrashke's cry has wakened the teacher.
Thank God, after his nap he seems fresher.
He collects himself at once, notices us, and turns
to his book, as though he had not slept at all.
"Well, children, where are we? Repeat after me
"Aleph, beth, gimel, daleth," I say loudly, happy
that the teacher finds nothing to reproach us about.
"Heh, vav!" Abrashke tries to outshout me.
For the first time we recite the alphabet from be
ginning to end.
The old man smiles with pleasure. "Aren't you
tired, children?" he asks. "You've studied well today,
eh? Perhaps it's enough for today? Eh?"
The teacher puts on his worn coat and quietly goes
out of the room.
THE Fearful Days have come, and our whole house
is in an uproar. Each holiday brings with it its
own savor, each is steeped in its own atmosphere.
A clear, joyful, purified air, as after a rain this
is the air of Rosh ha-Shanah.
After the black nights of the Selichot prayers a
bright, sunny day dawns for the New Year. The
week of Selichot is the most restless week. Father
wakes up in the middle of the night, rouses my broth
ers, and all of them dress quietly and go off like
thieves slinking through the door.
What are they looking for in the cold, in the dark
streets? It is so warm in bed! And what if they don't
come back at all how mother and I would weep and
weep! I am almost beginning to cry even now, and I
wrap myself closer in my blankets.
In the morning when father drinks his tea his face
is pale and fagged. But the bustle of the holiday eve dis
pels everyone's weariness.
The shop is closed at an early hour. Everybody
makes ready to go to shul. There are more prepara-
tlons than ever before, as if it were the first time they
were going there. Each one puts on something new-
one a fresh, light-colored hat, another a new necktie,
still another a new garment.
Mother dons a white silken blouse; she seems re
furbished, she has a new soul, and she is eager to go
One of my elder brothers opens the thick prayer
book for her and creases down the pages from which
she must pray. They are marked with notations made
by grandfather's hand many years ago: "Say this."
Mother recognizes the lines over which she wept
last year. A trembling comes over her and her eyes
dim with tears. She is in a hurry to go to shul to weep
over the words, as if she were reading them for the
A stack of books has been prepared for her. She
wraps them in a large kerchief and takes them all with
her. Must she not pray for a good year for the whole
As for father's books and talis, the shames came to
fetch them to the shul during the day.
I remain behind, alone. The house is empty, and I
too feel emptied. The old year, like a thing for
lorn, drags itself away somewhere outside. The com
ing year must be a clear one, a bright one. I want to
sleep through the night as quickly as possible.
On the following day in the morning I too go to
shul. I too wear new garments from tip to toe. The
sun is shining, the air is clear and alive. My new shoes
give a dry tap. I walk faster. The New Year must be
already arrived in shul. The shofar must be sounding
there; even now it echoes in my ears. I fancy that the
sky itself has come down lower and hurries to shul
together with me. I run to the women's section, I push
open the door. A whiff of heat comes from in there,
as from an oven. The heavy air stifles my breath. The
shul is packed full. The high lecterns are piled with
books. Old women sit bent, sunk in their chairs. Girls
stand almost on the heads of the grandmothers. Chil
dren tumble underfoot.
I want to elbow my way to mother. But she Is sit
ting so far off, all the way up at the front, next to the
window that opens into the men's section. As soon as
I try to move, a woman turns around to me, a weep
ing face gives me an angry look.
"Oh! Oh!" She breathes wrath at me.
I am pushed from behind; I am suddenly freed, and
thrown to the handrail.
My mother signals to me with her eyes. She is glad
that I am near her. But where is the shof ar? Where is
the New Year?
I look at the walls of the men's section. The ark of
the Torah is closed, its curtain drawn. Silently and
calmly the two embroidered lions guard it. The con
gregation is in a tumult, as though busy with some
thing else. Have I come too early or too late?
Suddenly from under a talis a hand holding a shof ar
stretches out and remains suspended in the air. The
shofar blares out; everyone is awakened. They are all
very still. They wait. The shofar gives another blast.
The sound is chopped off , as though the horn were out
People exchange glances. The shofar trumpets
hoarsely. A murmur ripples through the shul.
What manner of shofar blowing is that? He lacks
strength. Perhaps another man should be called up.
And then suddenly, as though the trumpet blower
had pushed out the evil spirit that was clogging the
shofar, there comes a pure, long sound. Like a sum-
mons it runs through the whole shul, sounding into
every corner. The congregation is relieved: one gives
a sigh, another nods his head. The sound rises upward.
The walls are touched by it. It reaches me and my
handrail. It throbs up to the ceiling, pushes the thick
air, fills every empty space. It booms into my ears, my
mouth, I even feel an ache in my stomach. When will
the shofar finish trumpeting? What does the New
Year want of us?
I recall all my sins. God knows what will happen to
me: so much has accumulated during the year!
\ can hardly wait for afternoon. I am eager to go
with mother to the rite of tashlich, to shake off all my
sins, cast them into our big river. Other women and
men are on their way. All of them walk down the
little street that leads to the river bank. All of them
are dressed in black; they might be going, God for
bid, to a funeral. The air is sharp. From the high river
bank, from the big city park, a wind is blowing; leaves
are falling, yellow, red-yellow, like butterflies; they
whirl in the air, turn over, scatter on the ground. Do
our sins fly in the same way? The leaves rustle, stick
to my shoes. I drag them along. Having them, it is
less fearsome to go through the tashlich.
"Why do you stop all the time?" Mother pulls me
by the hand. "Let the leaves alone!"
Soon everyone stops. The street seems suddenly to
end; the deep, cool waters seem to be flowing up to
On the river bank dark clusters of people have
gathered. The men, with their heads thrust out and
their beards swaying, bend down to the water, as
though they wanted to see the very bottom. Suddenly
they turn their pockets inside out; little crumbs,
scraps, detach themselves from the linings. The men
recite a prayer aloud and throw their crumbs, to
gether with the sins, into the water. But how shall I
shake off my sins? I have no crumbs in my pockets
I do not even have pockets.
I stand next to mother, shivering from the cold
wind that lifts our skirts. Mother tells me the ritual
words that I have to say, and the prayers together with
the sins fall from my mouth straight into the water. I
fancy that the river is swollen with all our sins, and it
rolls along with its waters suddenly turned black.
My burden eased away, I return home. Mother at
once sits down to read psalms. She wants still to make
use of the day to obtain something more from God.
A humming fills the dark room. The air becomes
clouded, like mother's spectacles. Mother is weeping,
silently shaking her head.
What shall I do?
I fancy that from the closely printed lines of the
psalms our grandfathers and grandmothers come
gently out to us. Their shadows sway, they draw
themselves out like threads, encircle me. I am afraid
to turn around. Perhaps someone is standing at my
back and wants to seize me in his arms?
"Mother!" I cannot contain myself, I shake her by
She raises her head, blows her nose, and ceases
weeping. She kisses the psalter and closes it.
"Rashke," she says, "I'm going to shul. We'll be
back soon, all of us. Will you set the table, my child?"
"Mother, is it for the shehecheyanu?"
As she goes out I open the cupboards, I drag out
the tall paper bags filled with fruit and spread all of it
out on the table. As in a great garden, thick green
melons roll on the table. Beside them lie clusters of
grapes, white and red. Big, juicy pears have turned
over on their little heads. There are sweet yellow
apples that have a golden gleam they look as if they
had been dipped in honey. Plums, dark red, scatter
all over the table.
Over what shall we offer the benediction of first
fruits? Haven't we eaten of all these things all year
I notice that from another bag there protrudes, like
a fir tree, a pineapple, a new, unfamiliar fruit.
"Sasha, do you know where pineapples grow?"
"Who knows?" She spreads her hands. "I've got
other things to think about!"
No one knows whence the pineapple comes. With
its scaly skin it looks like a strange fish. But its tail
stands up at the top like an opened fan. I touch its
stuffed belly, and it trembles from top to bottom. It
is not a casual matter to touch the pineapple; it be
haves somewhat like an emperor. I reserve the center
of the table for it.
Sasha slices it pitilessly. The pineapple groans
under her sharp knife like a live fish. Its juice, like
white blood, trickles onto my fingers. I lick them. It
is a tart-sweet taste.
Is this the taste of the New Year?
"Dear God," I whisper hurriedly, "before they all
come back from shul, give a thought to us! Father
and mother pray Thee all day long in shul to grant
them a good year. And father always thinks of Thee.
And mother remembers thy Name at every step!
Thou knowest how toilworn they are, how care-
ridden. Dear God, Thou canst do everything! Make
it so that we have a sweet, good year!"
I quickly sprinkle powdered sugar on the pine
"Gut yom-tov! Gut yom-tov!" My brothers run
in, trying to outshout one another.
They are followed immediately by father and
mother, who look pale and tired.
"May you be inscribed for a happy year!"
My heart leaps up. I imagine that God himself is
speaking through their mouths.
DAY OF ATONEMENT
A QUITE different air, heavy and thick, pervades
the night of Yom Kippur.
All the shops are long closed. Their black shutters
are locked as though forever. The sky too is black, as
if God himselfheaven forbidhad deserted it. It is
terrifying to walk in the streets. Perhaps God metes
out punishment instantly, and one will sprain an ankle.
I shudder at hearing laughter somewhere in the dis
tance. The goyim are not afraid at all They laugh
even on the Day of Atonement.
My head is still throbbing with the clamor that
came from father's white kapporeh rooster.
A black-garbed, scrawny-looking shochet slunk
into our courtyard late in the evening. From the
folds of his coat a long knife flashed. He chased fa
ther's cock; the cock shrieked, shaking the courtyard
with his din. Other cocks ran after him with excited
The cook seized a cock by the leg, but the cock
wrenched himself free. The courtyard was littered
It sounded like a thousand gongs clanging for a
fire: the courtyard re-echoed with the crowing of the
cocks, with their embattled uproar. But gradually they
spent their strength. The yard grew quieter and
Mother's and my own white chicken hid in a hole
in their fear. One could only hear them clucking low
The cook caught both chickens at the same time
and put them at the shochet's feet. Blood poured over
the whole balcony. When I came to myself, all the
cocks and hens lay on the ground. From their necks
ran threads of blood. Blood had spattered their white
feathers. They were left to cool off in the dark night.
I remember how my little chicken quivered in my
hands when I held it upraised for the rite. I too was
quivering. My finger recoiled at once when I touched
the chicken's warm belly. The chicken uttered a
shriek, and tried to fly over my head, like a little
I raised my eyes from the prayer book, I wanted to
look at the chicken. It cried and clucked as though
begging for mercy of me. I did not hear the passages
that I was to repeat. And I was suddenly seized
by fear that the chicken, as I held it up high, might
befoul my head.
Mother is calling me. From a distance I see her eyes
gleaming, her hands moving quietly as though pre-
paring to embrace someone. She tells me to hold the
skeins of thread before the large wax candles that will
burn in the shul at the cantor's reading stand. She
pulls out the first thread.
"For my beloved husband, for Shmul Noah may
he be healthy and live to his hundred-and-twentieth
year." She draws out the thread, slowly weaves a
benediction into it, sprinkles it with her tears, and
passes a big piece of wax over it, as though trying to
rub it full of good wishes.
"Hold fast to the end of the thread, Bashke,"
mother says to me.
"For my dear son, for Itchke may he be healthy
and live in happiness and joy till his hundred-and-
twentieth year!" She draws out the second thread and
rubs it too with wax.
"For my oldest daughter, for Hannah."
Names are slowly intoned, threads are drawn, now
yellow with wax and tears. I can hardly hold all the
ends that remain free of wax. They slip from the tips
of my fingers. I hold them with all my strength.
Mother prays a long time for each child, each rela
tive. I no longer know what she is saying. With every
name a tear drops on the thread and at once is im
bedded in the wax like a little pearl. One heavy can
dle is now ready. Mother tackles the others.
"May all of us live long. For my deceased father,
Baruch Aaron Raishkes may he rest forever in para
dise. My father, pray well for us, for me and my hus-
band and my little children. Entreat from God good
health and good fortune for all of us." Now mother
weeps aloud. She almost cannot see the threads shak
ing in her hands.
"May all of us live long. For my deceased mother,
Aige may she pray well for us. My mother, do not
forsake your only daughter, Alta," mother prays over
the thread she has drawn out. Apparently she would
like to linger with her mother as long as possible; she
moves the wax slowly and does not let the thread go
from her hands.
"May all of us live long. For my deceased little son,
Benjamin." Mother begins to weep again.
At this point I can check myself no longer. I weep
too over my little brother who was one year old when
he died and whom I never saw.
Mother glances at me through her tears, catches her
breath, and blows her nose. The skein of threads
grows thicker and thicker. Dead relatives, members of
closely and distantly connected families, come as on a
visit to us. For each one mother sheds a tear; it is like
sending a greeting to every one of them. I no longer
hear their names; I might be walking around an un
familiar graveyard. I see only stones, I see only threads.
I am even filled with fear at the thought of how many
dead relatives have been drawn forth and entwined
among mother's threads. Will we, the living, burn in
the same way, like the souls of the dead?
I am glad when at last the shames, who is waiting
for the candles, carries them to the shul. Exhausted, I
go to bed.
Next day we are prompted from early morning on.
We are given a special snack, in order to fortify us
before the fast, and to give us opportunity to say an
other prayer. We are trying to do good deeds. My
brothers apologize to one another.
"Abrashke, you're not angry with me?" I rush to
my brother I recall that I have not always done
things he wanted me to do.
Mother goes down to the courtyard. There is a
neighbor with whom she has quarreled. She begs
him earnestly to forgive her.
My brothers change clothes, make ready to go to
shul. They almost do not speak. They do not even
jostle one another. They seem to have been seized
They wait at some distance while mother slowly
blesses her candles. Then they come first to father,
next to mother, wishing them both a good year. My
parents place their hands on each of them and speak
a blessing upon each head. Even the grown sons and
daughters look like little children under the outspread
hands of their parents. I, the youngest, go to them
last. Father, with lowered eyes, touches my head, and
I immediately choke with the tears that mount to
my eyes. I can hardly hear the benedictions that he
pronounces over me. His voice is already hoarse.
I fancy that I am already burning on the big
twisted candle that mother has prepared. Sanctified,
I leave the circle of its light to me it is like
white, warm hands shining behind the benedictions
and tears and stand under my mother's shaking hands.
When I am near her, I quiet down a little. I feel
more at ease when I see her tears. I hear her simple,
heartfelt prayers. I do not want at all to come out
from under her hands. And actually I begin to feel
cold as soon as the murmur of the benedictions ceases
over my head.
Everyone is in haste to go to shuL
"Gut yom-tov!" Father quietly approaches mother
and shakes hands with her.
"Gut yom-tov! " mother answers with lowered eyes.
I remain alone at home. The candles burn on, holy
and warm. I take my place at the wall to say the
Silent Prayer at once.
The benedictions that father has spoken over my
head still sound in my ears. I beat my chest while re
citing the confession of sins. I am afraid, for I proba
bly have committed more sins than are enumerated in
the prayer book.
My head grows hot. The letters of the sacred
writing begin to spread in height and width. Jerusalem
sways before my eyes. I should like to hold up the holy
city with the thick prayer book that I clutch tightly
with both hands.
Alone I cry to God and do not leave the wall until
I can no longer think of anything to pray for.
The children now return from shuL The house is
deserted, the table empty. Only the white tablecloth
gleams dimly under the stumps of the half -burnt can
dles. They smoke. We do not know what to do with
ourselves. So we go to sleep.
Next morning when I wake up, everyone has long
since gone to shul. Again I am alone in the house. I
remember everything that I am supposed to do. I only
pour water over my fingers, I do not even brush my
teeth, and with parched mouth I begin to pray. Gen
tile schoolmates come in; they want to do their home
work with me. I do not move from the spot until I
have finished praying.
I run to see my grandfather. He is old and sick and
he too has remained alone at home. The Rabbi of
Bobruisk (grandfather is a follower of his) has or
dered grandfather not to fast. He must take a spoon
ful of milk every hour. So I go to my grandfather
to give him his milk.
Grandfather is praying. He does not even glance at
me and bursts into soft weeping. The spoon with the
milk shakes in my hand, my fingers are splashed.
Grandfather's tears drop into the spoon, mingle with
the milk. He barely wets his pale lips and weeps more
copiously under my tending. Heavy-hearted, I return
"Bashutke, come and have a bite!" Our Sasha begs
me to come to the kitchen and eat a piece of cold
chicken with her. "You must surely be starved!"
I am angry at myself because I am not yet fasting
through the whole day. Every year I beg mother to
permit me to fast. I cannot eat after witnessing grand
father's tears, and after seeing father come home with
his pale, drawn face. He comes from shui to rest a
little. With his white lips, his white kittel, and his
white socks he looks God forbid as though he were
not alive at all. I fancy that his soul has already be
come very pure and that it shines through his white
garments. I begin to pray more fervently. I want to
be at least in some small measure as pious as father.
Mother stays at the shul through the whole day.
Before the Musaf I go to see her to ask how she is.
The cantor can no longer be heard. The men's section
is half empty. Some have gone home to rest, others sit
on the benches, their eyes on their prayer books. Boys
play in the shul courtyard; some have apples to eat,
some have pieces of challa with honey. But the
women's section is full of stifled weeping. In every
corner a woman sighs and laments.
"Lord of the Universe, Lord of the Universe!"
The chant resounds on all sides.
Mother is weeping quietly. She can scarcely any
longer see the little letters of her prayer book through
her clouded spectacles.
I stand at some distance and wait. Mother catches
her breath, raises her weeping face, and nods to me to
tell me that she is feeling well, although she resumes
her weeping at once. I come closer to her. I do not
know what to do among all these weeping mothers. I
look down into the men's section. The cantor's white
kittel and white skullcap are still. I look among the
rows of tall candles for our two. They are burning
among all the other candles, burning high into the air
at either side of the holy ark.
Suddenly a humming and a clamor rise over the
shul. It becomes full of men. There is a bustle, the air
grows hot. Men throng around the cantor. The heavy
curtain of the holy ark is drawn aside. Now there is
silence, the air has become motionless. Only the rustle
of prayer shawls can be heard. The men hurry toward
the holy ark. The shining scrolls of the Torah, like
princesses awakened from sleep, are carried out from
the ark. On their white and dark red velvet mantles
great stars gleam shields of David embroidered in
silver and gold. The handles are mounted with silver,
encrusted with mother-of-pearl, and crowns and little
bells hang from them.
Light glows around the scrolls of the Torah. All the
men in the shul are drawn toward them. The scrolls
are surrounded, escorted. The men crowd after the
scrolls of the Torah, trying at least to catch a glimpse
of them, send a kiss to them from a distance. And
they, the beautiful scrolls of the Torah, tower high
above the heads of the worshipers, above all the out
stretched hands, and move slowly through the shul.
I can hardly keep myself behind the handrail of the
women's section. I should like so much to jump down,
to fall straight into the embrace of the holy Torahs,
or at least move closer to them, to their quivering
light, at least touch them, kiss their bright glory. But
the scrolls are already being carried back, back to the
holy ark. From both sides of it the tall candles twin
kle at them. The velvet curtain is drawn, darkness
comes to my eyes.
As though to drown the sadness, the men begin at
once to pray aloud.
I remain standing at the window. I am attracted by
the men's section, its clamorous air, filled with white
talesim, like upraised wings surging through the shul,
covering every dark spot. Only here and there a nose
or an eye peeps out. The talis stripes sway like stairs
above the covered heads.
One talis billows up, emits a groan, and smothers
the sound within itself. The shul grows dark. I am
seized by fear. The talesim bend, shake, move up
ward, turn to all sides. Talesim sigh, pray, moan.
Suddenly my legs give way. Talesim quiver, drop to
the ground like heavy sacks. Here and there a white
woolen sock sticks out. Voices erupt as from under
ground. Talesim begin to roll, as on a ship that is sink
ing and going down amid the heaving waves,
I do not hear the cantor at all. Hoarse voices out-
shout one another. They pray, they implore, asking
that the ceiling open for them. Hands stretch upward.
The cries set the lamps shaking. At any moment now
the walls will crumble and let Elijah the Prophet
Grown-up men are crying like children. I cannot
stand it any longer. I myself am crying more and
more. I recover only when I perceive at last a living,
weeping eye behind a crouching talis, when I hear
trembling voices saying to one another: "Gut yoin-
I run home, for soon everyone will be back from
shul, and I must set the table. "Sasha, hurry, hurry,
prepare the samovar!" I cry to the maid.
I drag the tin box of pastry from the cupboard. I
empty it all out on the table cakes, cookies, ginger
bread, wafers, all sorts of buns. There is no room left
even for a glass of tea.
Sasha lights the lamp and carries in the cheerfully
humming samovar. Even the samovar seems glad that
it has survived, that it has been remembered. Now the
voices of my brothers can be heard. They rush in
like hungry animals, one after the other.
Mother, looking worn, enters with a soft smile on
her face and says to everyone: "Gut yom-tov!"
"Gut yom-tov!" says the cook. She runs in from
the kitchen and smiles a pale smile.
We are waiting for father. As always, he is the last
to come from shul. In high spirits we fall upon the
food. Glasses of tea are poured and drunk.
We have saved ourselves. We are no longer hungry.
May God give his seal upon a good year for all of us.
So be it, amen!
THE day after Yom Kippur we wait for a messen
ger from God. Surely he must come after our
prayers and tears of yesterday!
And then a peasant with a cartful of branches of
red fir drives into the courtyard. He overturns his
cart. Prickly branches fall down, heaped one upon
The courtyard turns into a forest. There is a smell
of tar, of pine. The branches are fresh as just after a
rain. Like huge birds at rest the branches lie, and a
fragrance comes from them like a song.
If one crawls up on the mountain of branches, it
utters a groan and bends underfoot. If one rolls on it,
the mountain collapses entirely.
"Why are you trampling the branches?" My
brothers come running with outcries. "Do you think
it's hay? Don't you know it's for the sukkah?"
They pull the branches from under my feet. Each
branch comes up heavily from the ground, shakes
itself free with its spikes.
I help to carry the branches into the sukkah, which
is not yet ready. Only the walls, made of long boards,
have been set up and nailed. The roof is open. The
sky looks in. My brothers climb up the ladders, stand
on chairs, and hand the branches to one another,
shaking them as one shakes the Sukkot palm branch.
The branches open up like fans. Soon the sukkah is
covered as a head is covered with a cap. It stands in
the middle of the courtyard, alluring and beckoning,
like a little house in the woods.
The branches are piled up on it so thickly that no
little star from heaven will shine through the dark
green. Inside the sukkah it is cool and dim. Only
through the holes in the walls little patches of light
creep through. And the points of light gleam and
quiver, trying hard to slip in.
In the middle of the sukkah a long table and
benches have been set up. There is no floor. Bare
ground is underfoot. The legs of the table and of the
benches rest in the damp earth, which sticks to one's
We do not go out of the sukkah. We imagine that
we are in a country house. We stretch out on the
benches, pursue and intercept the patches of light
that shine through the walls, and with our heads high
in the air we gaze at the roof of branches as though
it were a sky with stars. We shiver when a drop of
dew falls on us.
We intone a song, by way of announcing to every
one that the sukkah is ready, that the holiday has
People look out of the windows of our apartment.
"Look," they say, "the sukkah is ready!"
Suddenly someone calls out: "Children, the shames
has brought the palm branch from the shul!"
We rush into the house. It too has become differ
ent. There is a smell of osier. Little leaves litter the
floor and their fragrance fills the whole apartment,
And where is the palm branch?
There it stands by a corner window. It stands so
wretchedly, leaning on the pane. Its head is bent to
one side; perhaps it is trying to see through the glass
whether a bit of the sky of its native land is shining
there. Its long, narrow leaves are pressed together. I
go to the palm branch. I am afraid to touch it. Its
edges are sharp, like the edge of a sword.
"Let me shake the palm branch!" I beg my
"I just want to see whether It is a live one."
The palm branch shakes in my hands; I shake with
it. It makes a little wind around itself. I fancy that I
am in the Land of Israel, under a shady palm tree.
How has the palm branch got here?
"Abrashke, what do you think?" I ask my brother
insistently. "Has the palm branch come directly here
from Palestine? What do you think it was there a
tree, or a branch broken off the tree? Who brought it
"What is today Passover, and you think you've
got to ask questions?"
My brother does not know the answer himself, and
he is trying to wriggle out of it.
"Listen," he says, "I think the palm branch has torn
itself out of the earth. It wanted to have a look at
what is going on in the world. So it ran away from
home, and in one night" he lowers his voice as
though he himself were frightened a in one night it
grew up here, by our window."
I want to believe him, but I don't want him to be
"But it's just been brought from the shul!" I re
"And what would you say if you knew that the
palm branch was wrapped in straw and packed in a
big wooden chest? I've seen merchandise that is trans
ported that way by train."
"Ah, do you think that the palm branch would
travel like that with all the unclean goods? The
rebbe would slap you if he could hear how you're
talking about the palm branch. And look, why is it
so fresh and green? It would have been smothered in
I touch the palm branch again. Its thin green leaves
quiver like the long strings of a harp that is being
"Wait, palm branch," I comfort it while shaking it,
"father will come soon, take you in his hands, offer a
benediction over you and then you won't feel so
cold and strange in our house."
And where is the etrog?
The yellow citron, plump and big, is sprawled like
a Pharaoh on a soft bed in the middle of the silver
sugar box. In the place of the sugar, which has been
removed, the citron gives off a fragrance like an em
peror's. And where has it come from?
Now father is entering the house, my brothers after
"Come on, let us offer the benediction over the
Father looks at the palm branch, at the citron. He
takes the citron out of its bed and puts it beside the
palm branch. They nestle against each other. Are
they perhaps natives of the same land?
And father, his eyes lowered, speaking the benedic
tion aloud, as though taking an oath, pulls the palm
branch upward, lowers it, places it near his heart,
takes it away, shakes it to one side, to the other. The
palm branch bends, sways. Its head trembles. Its long
leaves stretch forward, all of themselves, into praying
And the moment father stops, the palm branch
composes its quivering body.
"Here, do you want to say the palm branch bene
diction?" Father hands it to the elder brother.
The palm branch passes from hand to hand. All the
six brothers have fallen upon it; they shake it, break
it, fence with it as with a sword. Barely surviving,
it is put back near the window.
The finished sukkah stands waiting a whole day be
fore at last they go to eat in it.
During the day it has absorbed the odor of pine, its
walls and the damp earth underfoot have dried. When
evening comes, father and my brothers put on their
coats as though preparing to go away. They go to eat
supper in the sukkah.
Neither mother nor I nor the cook goes there. The
three of us have only been allowed to go up to the
door of the sukkah to hear father's benediction over
the kiddush cup.
And the meals are served to those in the sukkah
through a little window, as through a hole, one plate
after another. My brothers can make believe that the
plates with the food come to them straight from
Do they give a thought to us who have been left in
In the apartment it is cold. It seems empty, and it
feels as if there were no doors and windows. I sit with
mother and eat without zest.
"Mother, why have we been left here with the
servants, as though we too were servants? What kind
of holiday is that, mother?" I keep tormenting her.
"Why do they eat apart from us?"
"Ah, my little child, they're men," says mother,
sadly, as she eats her piece of cold meat.
Suddenly the kitchen is in uproar. The maids run
back and forth between the courtyard and the house.
"Mistress, it's beginning to rain!"
"Take the whole meal at once, so that they can say
the blessings quickly!" Mother too is upset.
I am glad that it is raining in the middle of supper.
For mother and me the holiday is so sad!
Suddenly bang! -a thunderclap comes. I look
through the window to see whether the sukkah has
fallen apart. It is flooded with water.
In a trice the branches have been soaked through,
turned flat and thin. Water drips on the table in the
sukkah, it drips from the branches, from the walls.
The maids run to and fro with covered plates in their
hands. The rain is pattering on the plates, trying to
Through the noise of the rain I hear father's bene
dictions. My brothers' high voices merge into the rain.
And one after the other, with their collars up, they
run out of the sukkah. We look at them as though we
had not seen them for a long time. They invade the
apartment like people coming from another world.
Thus a few days go by. Now the sukkah is taken
apart altogether. Board after board is pulled off. The
walls are folded up. The roof of branches falls in,
breaks up underfoot. The courtyard is filled with
The sukkah vanishes as if it had never been there.
The palm branch is taken down from the window
"Look what's become of it!" My brothers make
fun of it. "It's like an old, old man, all dried up and
"Please," I beg of them, "weave some toy for me,
a little basket or something like that!"
My brother Aaron sets to work. He has long, deft
fingers. He tears one leaf after another from the palm
branch. Each leaf whistles, bends. My brother's fin
gers dart about, splice it. He cuts narrow ribbons of
it, plaits them into strips. One is fitted into an
other, and there it is, all ready, a little basket, a little
trough, a table or a chair. Of the tall palm branch
there remains only a hollow stalk.
And the etrog has been forgotten altogether. The
cook has thrown it into a pan of boiling water,
scalded it alive. The plump fruit has been boiled
down to a saucer of thick juice.
There is a pull at my heart. The holiday has been
boiled away. May Simchat Torah come soon, when
the whole town, as it always seems, will be visiting us.
ONCE a year we children are allowed freely to
make merry in the shul. From evening on we
pant from the boisterousness of the hakkaf ot.
The shul is packed full of people. There is no place
in which to get away from the boys. Even little girls
come to the men's section for the hakkafot, and to
gether with the boys they crowd around underfoot.
The lamps seem to burn with a new flame. The holy
ark is open, the scrolls of the Torah are carried out of
it, one after the other. All of them are dressed up in little
The shul is glorified like a holy temple. Men
dance and stamp with the scrolls of the Torah in their
hands. We children dance and stamp with them.
Like little wild creatures we run around the lec
tern, jumping up on it at one side, jumping down at
the other. The wooden steps groan under our feet.
We push and chase one another; each of us wants
to run around the lectern as many times as possible.
We are not given time to touch or stroke its carved
handrail, not even to catch our breath.
The rattles shake in our hands; the shul is filled
with their noise. The paper flags whistle, flutter after
us, and tear in the wind.
The shames hides in a corner. He fears that we
will push the walls apart. Now it seems that the books
on the stands are beginning to slip. He begs us: "Chil
dren, will there be no end of this? We've had enough!
You'll upset the whole shul!"
We cannot stop. Our heads are whirling. We can
not stand on our feet.
I am exhausted when I drag myself home behind
my brothers with my torn flag in my hand.
Next day, from early morning on, our apartment
is in a bustle. Preparations are under way. Guests are
We hurry to go to shul. We hurry to get through
with the praying as soon as possible. Even before the
end of the service, the men gather in clusters and ask
each other in whispers: "Well, has it been decided to
whom we are going first for the kiddush?"
"Sh-sh-sh! Sha! Uh! Ah!"
"Reb Shmul Noah has invited the whole shul!"
"Oh, then there'll be plenty to drink! Don't you
think so, Reb Hershl?" This question is addressed to
a thin man with a red nose.
"You're asking me? Well, then, let's first go to Reb
Shmul Noah's. I'd say that he is a quite respectable
Then the whole shul pours out into the street.
"Why do you dawdle? Come on, faster, there are
still plenty of places to go to!"
"Today the Jews will get drunk!" The gentile
Even the fat monk standing in the road moves of
his own accord to one side to let them pass. The
whole congregation invades our apartment, it becomes
crowded and hot.
"Gut yom-tov! Gut yom-tov! Gut yom-tov, bale-
The women withdraw to one side. The crowd at
once makes its way to the tables. "What is on the
platters?" they ask one another.
The guests rub their hands with pleasure, push the
chairs about, look at the table. Decked out as for a
wedding, the table almost bends under the waiting
feast. There are slices of cake, tarts, sponge cake with
honey, platters of pickled herring, chopped liver,
eggs in goose fat, calf s-foot jelly, fried udders. And
bottles of wine and spirits stand on parade like
"Why are you so mulish? Let another fellow have
a chance too!" A tumult arises around the table.
"Why should you always be first? This is not the
shul when people are called to the scroll of the Law!"
"He is more interested in drink than in anything
else, so let him go through," the others laugh.
"Sha, here comes Reb Shmul Noah! To your
health, Reb Shmul Noah! To your health, raboisai!"
Father, as always, is the last to come from shul In
his long holiday coat, with his hat on his head, he
looks taller, broader. "To your health, le-chayim, gut
yom-tov!" he replies.
Father's high hat shakes on his head. He removes it
and keeps his head covered with his skullcap. Then
he asks: "Raboisai, have you made kiddush?"
"And you, our hosts?"
Several men stand up to make kiddush all at once:
"Blessed be the Creator of the fruit of the vine"
They begin to sway. The wine is sipped. They
attack the brandy, they eat, they take morsels from
"Le-chayim, hostess! Your herring is a herring!"
"And the petcha a rare treat!"
Mother's face shines with pleasure.
Suddenly, like a jester at a wedding, the shames
rises from the table. "Who wants to say mi-
sheberach?" he asks. "Who will begin?"
A man with a long white beard rises from his seat,
clears his throat, strokes his beard, moves sideways,
parts his dense mustache, as though the beard and the
mustache hindered him from opening his mouth.
"Mi-sheberach " He begins in a singsong voice,
swinging his body.
"Have you heard? How much does he give? How
much has he pledged?"
The shames prances from one to another, and just
as if he were presenting a wedding gift to a bridal
couple, he sings out loudly the name of the donor and
the amount of the promised contribution.
"Why does he put cold towels on our heads?
Where is some more drink? Hand us that bottle!
Why do you keep it up there?"
Empty bottles roll away. New ones are opened, as
though the party were only beginning. Glasses and
goblets are filled, wine splashes on the tablecloth.
Suddenly the man with the white beard bangs the
table and cries out: "Silence!"
He closes his eyes and utters a sigh so deep that it
sounds as though he were tearing out a piece of his
heart and casting it far from him. His sigh runs over
the table like a tremor. And suddenlyas if coming
from afar, growing out of the sigh there begins, in
a low tone, the Rabbi's Song.
There is a humming. The old man's head is sway
ing. His brow is knitted. His lips and mustache are
aquiver. Gradually he bewitches everyone. Pale faces
begin to blaze. Eyes close. And in one breath all of
them chant the song voice after voice, higher and
The melody spreads, swells, flares like a fire. The
people swim in the song. With closed eyes they sway,
bang the table; they seem to be trying to make the
table itself sing, to wrench themselves free of the
Some cry with fear, others sink into lamentation,
still others pray or weep. The melody is full of tears
that do not fall. Some of the guests snap their fingers.
Hands are outstretched. One man seizes his beard in
his hand and supports it firmlyperhaps thus to hold
his leaping heart.
Suddenly the lamentation stops. Joy breaks out.
"Ah, fellow Jews, there is a God in the world!"
The white-bearded guest cranes his neck, as though
the All-Highest himself were shedding glory upon
him from above.
"Why are you sitting, friends? Today is Simchat
Torah, the festival of the Torah the rabbi said that
one must make merry, dance!"
A hand and a foot shoot out, as if tearing, loose
from the body, and let themselves go.
The table is pushed to one side, the chairs are
kicked away. The walls themselves seem to be sway
ing. The tablecloth slips. Pieces of cake and some
glasses fall to the floor. The men begin to leap, to
stamp in one spot. They turn the flaps of their coats,
and they form little dance circles. Their shoulders
are bent, their hands are interlocked, almost as if tied
together. Shoulder to shoulder, each hangs on the
other. They do not let go, as though they feared that
if they were left alone they would fall in pieces.
People cannot see one another, no one sees himself.
The dancers' boots kick high curves. Sometimes their
feet give out.
A fresh back straightens itself and with a fresh
strength the newcomer hurls himself into the seething
dance as into a fire. The whole ring of dancers drags
after him. Now no one remains sitting at the table.
The table itself takes motion and pushes toward the
"Reb Shmul Noah, our host, what are you waiting
for? Get up!"
And father, always so quiet, so calm, moves from
his place, makes his way toward the dancing men,
and falls into the whirling ring. The chain of people
gives a tug and swallows him.
From my corner I watch father. I look for him
among the dancers. There is his head, slightly bent to
one side, his eyes lowered, his long beard afloat. There
he is, whirling as in a sweet dream, his whole body
melting with pleasure.
My father is dancing! I can no longer keep still.
"Mother, may I?"
The women in the corners are thrilled. Once a year
their husbands make merry.
"Mother, please let me! I too want to dance, to
have a whirl with father!" I pull my mother's sleeve.
"What are you saying, my child, you'll be tram
pled down on the spot! You see!"
With a shout, a tall, thin Jew bounces into the
room. He turns a somersault and lands on his feet.
He twists on the floor like a worm, and in one jump
lands in the kitchen. "Make way, make way!" he
"Oi, woe is me!" The cook is frightened. "Reb
Lalzer, have pity on me! What do you want to do in
She has recognized in him a neighbor from our
courtyard. But the thin newcomer does not listen-
she might as well not have spoken. He snatches up
the big fork and drags out of the oven a large earthen
ware pot full of the black, sticky delicacy called
kulaie. The pot turns over, its contents spill out over
the visitor. He turns black like a Negro, runs back
into the room, and further excites the drunken
All of them are dizzy; they can barely stand on
their feet. They drop into the chairs exhausted. With
their heads bent, they lie for a while as in a faint.
"Raboisai, gentlemen, we have still to visit Reb
Mendel!" One of them comes to with a shout.
All of them jump up from their seats as though
they had been lashed, and run with tottering legs out
into the street. Father runs with them.
When the first stars come out, father appears in the
doorway, a little drunk, staggering. He is ashamed to
enter the apartment. Like a sheaf of grain falling he
tumbles onto his bed.
We are ashamed with him.
THE FIRST SNOW
A FTER the Fearful Days come dragging, humdrum
ji\. days, days without meaning, without savor-
short, gray days.
Outside it rains constantly; the rain, it seems, has
forgotten to stop. The windowpanes are lashed and
spattered, the glistening raindrops roll down on them
in little tears, as though they were weeping.
At home it is dark even during the day.
The day has no sooner begun than it flickers out.
Even the wall clock ticks quietly, slowly, draws out
the hours and chimes them hoarsely. I do not know
where to escape from sadness. There is something
like a choked weeping in the patter of rain.
"Havah," I say to the cook again and again, "some
one is scratching at the door. Open it! "
"Oi, let me alone! I wish someone would come!
But who would come when it is pouring without
"Don't you hear? Someone is splashing in the
"Small wonder! It's been raining and blowing for
a whole day and night!"
"No, there are many feet stamping in the court
"Well, look at her! There's no way of getting rid
of the girl! Now you'll see, little goose, there's no
one there. What's that?"
Havah stops, her mouth wide open. From the dim
hall a pair of dark eyes glitter like a wolf's from be
hind a tree. Two tangled beards poke in at the door.
They are dripping with rain.
"Robbers!" I pull Havah by the sleeve.
"What on earth is this?" Havah, frightened too, is
"Cabbage, little lady, weVe brought fresh cab
bage!" The beards shake and a heavy breath wafts
toward us. Two tall peasants, drenched through and
through, drag in heavy, wet sacks behind them. They
are both dripping like thatched roofs. Their boots
squeak with water.
They stop in the hallway. They scratch their heads
and stand for a while, as if lost. They are feeling dry
"Why do you stand there, you soul of a dog?
Don't you see the door?" They push one another and
stamp their feet.
"Fie on your head!" The other one spits. The
sacks are heavy they might be filled with stones. The
peasants are panting. Their breath is like a mist; the
hall seems full of vapor.
"Here, go slow! Ah, what mud, what dirt!" The
cook berates them. "You've messed up everything,
like pigs. Don't walk another step with your muddy
boots! There, there, in the corner!" Havah has taken
up her post in the middle of the kitchen, and does not
permit the peasants to make one needless move.
"What a time you've chosen! Couldn't you come on
a dry day? You've brought all the mud in the village
here. I've just scrubbed the kitchen. And how is the
cabbage? Probably rotten through and through!"
From the sacks white, round heads of cabbage fall
out, so curled, so cleaneach little head seems decked
with a white lace coverlet. Not even stained by the
muddy sacks! Little head after little head, one tum
bles out after the other. Each rolls out bottom up;
they rub cheeks, huddle against one another.
A huge mountain of cabbages has piled up. There
is a whiff of fresh, strong odor, as though suddenly a
whole field of cabbage had been planted in the mid-
die of the kitchen. The kitchen has come back to life
and we with it. Havah at once sets to work. She rolls
up her sleeves, brings in tubs and pails.
"Children, do not climb on the cabbage!" she says
in a commanding tone. "Sasha, bring the table from
the cellar, wash it clean."
A narrow, long table with an iron cleaver in the
center of it has been pushed up to the cabbage pile. I
feel a heart stab, as if the hangman in person had
taken up his post in the kitchen.
A head of cabbage is thrown on the table. It slides
under the teeth of the cleaver, and in a flash it is cut
into shreds. Another head is pushed up to the cleaver,
which moves up and down. Shreds of cabbage fly like
feathers and fall into the tubs placed underneath.
On the sliced cabbage water is poured; grains of
pepper are thrown into it. The water gushes, mounts
to the surface, seethes into the cabbage that keeps
dropping down from the table into the tubs.
The pails, the barrels are full. Disks of red carrot
dot the pallor of the cabbage. It is weighted down
with a big stone placed on it as a lid; the cabbage
cannot escape from under it.
I accompany the tubs to the dark cellar. There in
the damp air the once living white, hard cabbage will
quickly soak through and ferment. We children fall
upon the leftover sweet little hearts and scoop them
out with our teeth.
Nor do we miss the day when cucumbers are
"Havah, give us a cucumber, we'll help you clean
"So you've already got wind of the cucumbers too?
I know your tricks!"
The cook admonishes us not to pass over any cu
cumber with a black speck on it. We rub the cucum
bers, polish them like shoes, till their green skins shine.
It is almost unbearable to see the polished cucum
bers laid out in a trough and buried under the yellow
flowerets of dill and other sharp and bitter herbs. The
cucumbers are soaking in a damp little grave.
Each of us chooses a particularly shining cucumber,
snatches it from the trough, and cracks it like a nut
between his teeth.
"You brats!" cries the cook. "What have I been
telling you? You'll eat up all the cucumbers!"
And we, with our mouths full, shout at her: "Ugh,
you witch! You want to soak everything, get every
thing moldy with your sour pickle! Who will be able
even to recall the taste of a fresh green cucumber?"
And with a sour taste on our tongues we take our
selves out of the kitchen. Rain is pouring down. We
feel moldy ourselves.
Suddenly one morning, when I wake up, there is a
miracle. Light shines in my eyes! The rain has
stopped, the whole apartment is bright! The windows
are clear, the panes are dry, and through them come
white shafts of light.
"Snow! Snow has fallen!" We cannot tear our
selves from the windows.
The courtyard does not look like our courtyard.
Yesterday it was gray and gloomy, and now it stands
there all dressed in white. Snow is falling on it from
above like a shimmering veil. It must have been snow
ing all night long.
The roofs and the balconies already lie under
high, puff ed-up f eatherbeds of snow. There are piles
of snow at the doors. The stairs are covered with a
thick white carpet. And it is still falling from the sky,
the white, silvery snow; the air is glittering with
snowflakes, as though the sky in the middle of the day
were scattering its stars on the earth. Our eyes are
washed clear by the first snow. Or perhaps I have
been given a pair of new, white eyes?
The little birds have suddenly flown away. And
from the trees little nestling clumps of snow peep
out, like frozen straylings.
"Let's see who'll be first to step on the snow!"
Abrashke presses his face to the windowpane; his
flattened nose sticks to the glass. "Look, snow has
fallen between the windowpanes too!"
Long, narrow pads of white cotton have been un
rolled between the double windows; they glitter like
real snow with the silver threads that are laced over
them. And from the cotton there protrude shame-
facedly a few red and pink paper flowers that are
wondering how they have grown here.
My brother breathes on the glass, passes his finger
over it, and draws a terrifying head with hair. We
burst into laughter. The little flowers begin to quiver.
Abrashke, the prankster, is pleased when he frightens
anyone, even if it is only a paper flower.
"Get away from the windows, you rascals! That's
all we need someone to break a pane in this cold!"
We are driven away from the window. And we
fancy that the white snow is falling behind us on our
THE HANUKKAH LAMP
cc /CHILDREN, where are you all? Mendl, Avreml,
VJ Bashke, where have you all got lost?" Moth
er's high voice is heard from the shop. "Where do
you run about for whole days? Come, father is wait
ing with the Hanukkah lights."
Where would we be? We are standing and warm
ing ourselves at the stove. The day has almost gone.
It is now dark. So we are waiting for the shop to be
Mother runs out of the shop like a culprit, apolo
gizes to herself: "Today is a sort of holiday, and Fm
still tangled up in the shop. Let us at least gather the
children and bless the Hanukkah lights."
All together we go to the big room, where father
is waiting for us.
The room, although large, has only one small win
dow. Father stands with his back to the window, and
the scant light from outside is quite shut out. So all
of us are standing in darkness, waiting for the little
taper to be lighted.
Father's head is bent over the Hanukkah lamp. On
the dark wall father's shadow bends too; it might be
another father roaming about and looking for some
thing on the wall. When his head turns to one side,
the dark silver of the Hanukkah lamp glimmers. Like
a sleepy moon it reveals itself, shining out from the
corner where it was concealed, hidden from every
The Hanukkah lamp is small, almost like a toy. But
how many things are carved on its tiny silver wall!
In the center are two lions with fiery heads, open
mouths; with their legs upraised they hold up the out
spread tables of the Law. The tablets are blank, with
out a single letter on them, but they give forth a light
as though they were packed full of sacred wisdom
Around the lions there is a garden. It blooms, a real
paradise it has little vines with grapes, and familiar
fruit fallen from the trees. A pair of birds peep out
from the branches. And even a big serpent crawls
At either side of the paradise there stand on watch
two silver pitchers, tiny too, but with fat, stuffed
little bellies. They see to it that the paradise does not
lack oil. And to gladden one's eyes there is under the
lions and birds a little bridge, divided into eight little
goblets that are waiting for a flame to go up from
them. Father's white hands move among the goblets.
From one father begins with the first he pulls out
a tiny wick; then he tips a pitcher and pours a drop of
oil into the goblet. The wick drinks in the oil, be
comes soft and white, almost like a candle.
Father says a benediction and lights the wick. Only
one light. Father does not even touch the other gob
lets. All seven of them stand as though superfluous,
empty and cold.
It is not festive at all with only one light burning.
My heart tightens, as though God forbida memorial
candle were burning.
Its flame is so little that it could be put out with
one whiff . No reflection falls from the light onto the
dark floor. Even the wall of the paradise is not much
illumined. Of the two lions, only one receives a little
warmth from below, the other does not even know
that something is burning beside him.
My parents and my brothers have gone. I approach
the light; I try to pull up its wick, hoping to brighten
its flame. But there is nothing that I can grasp with
my hand. I singe my fingers. The little flame burns,
faints, flickers, trembles all the time. At any moment
it will go out; it makes an effort to rise upward at
least once, to lick a grape on the silver wall, or to
warm one foot of the carved lion.
Suddenly, one after another, drops of thick oil
begin to fall from the taper; they clog the little open
ing of the goblet, and they smother the little flame.
The wick begins to smoke and smears the woodwork
of the window.
A fresh gray stain is added to the stains that have
remained on the window frame since last year's
Hanukkah. All the stains shine above the solitary
light, almost outshine the light itself. And when the
big chandelier is lighted, the large flame of the lamp
blows away the last breath of the Hanukkah light.
Why are mother's Sabbath candles tall and large?
And why does big father bless such a tiny Hanukkah
THE FIFTH LIGHT
ONE light after another Is kindled. Now all of five
lights are burning in the Hanukkah lamp. All
five have been lighted at one time. One candle fans
the next and the flame of all five spreads from right to
left over the Hanukkah lamp and now warms the
whole silver paradise. Around the dining table, all the
children, big and small, have gathered. The chandelier
glows with a full holiday flame. From the kitchen
comes one fragrant odor after another.
The boiled salmon cools off there under a little
pond of sauce. Onion ringlets that have been cooked
with the salmon are caught in the sauce as though
frozen in ice.
The grieven have already turned black and hard,
although their little ears are drowned in fat. A pot
of fat sizzles on the hot coals. The kitchen is hot.
Havah's cheeks are aflame. She stands before the open
oven and with iron tongs in her hands she reaches for
the pans. Now she heats one, now she smears another
with a piece of greased paper; she pours out a spoon-
ful of liquid dough, or removes a freshly fried latke
from the pan. Hot, plump, they glisten, the latkes,
with pearls of fat, and they jump on the fire like new-
bom little babies when they are slapped with the
We watch the cook as though she were a magician.
"Havah, the thick latke is for me, isn't it?"
Abrashke sticks out his stuffed cheeks, which seem
about to burst.
"You'll end up by getting a tummy-ache! How
many latkes must you stuff yourself with? This brat
doesn't give me a minute of respite!" Havah grumbles
while she goes on frying, and piles up platters of hot,
We laugh in delight and lick our fingers. The
latkes are sliding in fat. We crunch the grieven. What
shall we get at first?
And there, suddenly, is a pile of little pieces of
wood on the table tiny blocks, shaped like little kegs,
poured out of a box. A lotto game!
Hard white cards are dealt out to us. On the cards,
from top to bottom, there are black numbers, all in a
hodgepodge. A figure two stands beside a nine, a
seven beside a three a mixed-up kind of order. The
game comes to an end when anyone is lucky enough
to have covered all his numbers with the little wooden
kegs, on which the same numbers are painted. The
whole game is a matter of chance. Each time a block
is drawn, everyone starts, as though the number had
jolted his luck: "Eleven! Four! Seven!"
"The four is out! Here is the four!"
"Who has seven? No one has seven?"
The little block turns in my brother's hand, is
pushed upon the table.
Number seven rolls under the gleaming lamp like a
black devil on one leg. The block merges with the
number; the figures make my eyes dizzy.
"You clumsy fool! You've got a seven! Why don't
you say so? Must you always have everything put
under your nose?" Abrashke squeals behind my back.
"Will I win?"
"You blockhead! Do you think one wins so fast?"
Everyone puts in a word.
"What can you do with her? She is dreamirlg, she
"She has just eaten too many latkes! Can't you tell
by her eyes?"
"What else? Don't talk such nonsense! Say rather
that she doesn't even know how to write a seven!"
At this point I cannot stand it any longer. "The
teacher says Fm a better pupil than you!" I answer
them. "I know a seven very well it's a lucky number! "
"YouVe almost missed your luck by sleeping!"
Out of fright, I no longer let the block go out of
my sight. Suddenly I jump up. "Look!" I cry. "I've
won, won, I've won in spite of you!"
Everyone turns to me, and together with all of
them I gaze at my card, miraculously all covered
with the blocks.
"A fool always has luck!" Abrashke shoots out.
Everyone envies me. Even the kindly Mendl bangs
the table with his cards, as though rapping my hands.
"I lacked one number, one single number, to win!"
He frets and fumes.
"Never mind, you'll win some other time! To her
the few kopeks she has won mean a great deal,"
Abrashke says, leering in my direction.
My joy Is ruined. The money burns my fingers.
"Better see how the teetotum will spin! " Abrashke
twirls the leaden top on the table.
The single leg of the top has barely touched the
slippery oilcloth and it is spinning as fast as anything.
It zooms, whistles like a wind, as if it were spinning
up into the air.
Everyone's eyes are fixed on the teetotum. As it
spins, its sides look sunken in. The letters gimel and
nun have flashed out once and evaporated. But as
though the top were losing its breath, the little wind
begins to subside, the leg spins more and more slowly.
The leaden sides with the carved letters on them be
come plain. The gimel, the shin, the heh, and the nun
are nodding to us with their little heads, as though
they had come from afar.
"I'll bet you anything you like that it will stop on
"How could it do otherwise, if that's what you
Each of us stares at the gimel, trying to intercept
it with his eyes, stop it in its path. And now it seems
that the teetotum is about to stop, on the gimel, which
stands for "good." The shin, which stands for "bad,"
and comes right after, trips the gimel, as it were. The
gimel falls on its face, and the shin stands up in the
middle of the table.
"Now will you bet again?"
"Well, what is there to talk about? It's a holiday
today! Let's play a game of cards, eh?"
With new ardor we fall upon the cards. And the
cards themselves strike our eyes with their painted
Only a queen has a white, smooth face, a slender
figure. A king occupies the whole card with his body,
trying to give it more weight with his fatness.
The knaves, who are younger, want to show off
with their skillfully twisted mustaches. Sometimes the
two knaves on one card appear to be pushing each
other with their sawed-off legs. Each would like to be
in the middle.
It is a science in itself to know the value of each
"We're playing Twenty-One, eh?"
My brothers grow excited. Again and again one of
them shuffles the cards, thumbs them with a gesture
of airing them. He blows, spits on his fingers, pushes
the cards out of one hand into the other. Suddenly he
cries out: "Cut!"
Another player picks up a portion of the cards and
places them on the remaining ones.
"Tap on them!" the first commands.
"Why do you give orders all the time?" cries an
other. "That's enough shuffling of the cards! What
do you want to make of themnew cards? Do you
think you're frying latkes?"
"One, two here's a card. And here is one for you.
One, two, three"
The cards are lined up like men on a battlefield.
With bated breath all of us watch them slipping out
from under my brother's thumb. We sit as on needles.
We are afraid to see what card has turned up.
"My partner surely has a better hand," each of us
thinks to himself, and jams his cards more tightly into
his fist, until he crumples them altogether, as though
his winning chances depended only upon hiding his
hand from his partner's sight. And he has to guard
The hardest thing to do is to let the cards lie on the
table and not look at them, but keep them in mind.
So the cards are arrayed in rows face down on the
table, and each of us sits and waits for a miracle: per
haps he will be the winner. If it turns out that he is
holding a knave, his heart sinks: it's all over not he
but his partner will win!
"Don't be so conceited!" one begins to tease the
other. "Sometimes a low card is better than the big
"What have you got against longs?"
"Do you imagine that by not saying anything
you've made your cards silent?"
"I don't need your kings I've got a card that's
better than a queen! "
"Let's see, let's see!" All of us fall upon the boaster,
"How can you believe him, the thief!" cries
the other. "And why do you kick all our chairs?
Look, you've made me drop a card out of my
"I've made you do it?" Abrashke apes him. "You
fool, what are you babbling? You're dropping them
"You chump, give me back my card, or you'll be
out of the game!"
"Is that so? Just wait!" Abrashke rolls on the floor.
"Now I've got you all in my left whiskers! Here she
lies, the queen, her face up!"
Abrashke whinnies in his glee at having been the
first to see another's precious card.
"Give it to me, it's my card!" the other protests.
"One doesn't play with such thievish tricks! Such a
game doesn't count!"
"And how do you know what is allowed and what
isn't? A new sage!"
"What a rascal! He turns the world upside down!"
My brothers fall upon one another, a tumult arises
around the table. The cards are pushed about, the
chairs move here and there. One elbows in, another
starts a fight. One slaps the other in the face and is
slapped in turn. A real war has broken out they
might almost be shooting with guns.
"Anyhow, it's not your queen!" the victim persists.
"Why?" Abrashke refuses to give in. "On the
floor or on the table, it's a card, not a fig!"
"Take that, you dog! This time all your tricks
"Hush, children, how long will you keep up this
noise? It's not possible to go to sleep! It's already mid
My brothers stop, exchange glances. Father's voice
from the bedroom is like a dash of cold water on all
I quietly gather up the cards. My head seems to be
swelling all the cards are fighting in my head.
The kopeks I have won keep me from falling
asleep. They lie under my pillow, but it is as though
they were crawling out from under the feathers, mur-
muring, pricking my ears, I am afraid to touch them
they might as well be stolen money*
I can hardly wait for the morning, and I give them
to the first beggar who knocks at our door.
MOTHER once told me that I was born during
Hanukkah, on the day of the fifth light. But
who knows that in our house? None of my brothers
ever thinks about when he came into the world.
"All right, you were bornan event indeed! What
of it?" My brothers laugh. "What do you want, to
be born all over again?"
And my father booms out: "What's this? A new
holiday, all of a sudden? Only a goyish head could
have thought that up!"
So all I had to rejoice about at Hanukkah were the
two ten-kopek pieces of Hanukkah money that we
younger children received from father and grand
For the money we would hire a sleigh and take a
ride. To go riding with a real horse was a treat we
were ready for on any day. The two silver ten-kopek
pieces sang and rang in our ears like the bells of the
sleigh that would take us all over the town. Grand
father's coin was particularly shining, as though he
had had it scrubbed for us in honor of Hanukkah.
On the day of Hanukkah, early in the morning,
Abrashke and I run to grandfather's house. If the old
man is still asleep, we'll wake him up. Perhaps he has
completely forgotten that there is Hanukkah in the
Grandfather lives (how did that ever happen to
him?) in a goyish street. Its name is Officers' Drive.
Probably he lives there because it is near the great
square of the synagogues.
It is a street of little white houses the whole street
is white. It is the quietest street in the city no shops,
no din. There one can really fall asleep. One cannot
even laugh out loud in the middle of the street. Imme
diately, from behind the flowerpots that block up the
windows, the flowered caps of old ladies stick out;
and they shake their heads and call out: "Stop laugh
ing, you brats!"
As though a sick grandfather were lying in every
And the houses are so low that perhaps all that one
can do is to lie down in them. And what if a tall man
should want to stand up? He would have to bend
over double. Probably that is why my grandfather
and grandmother grow shorter every year.
Some of the little houses are quite sunken in. It
seems as though the aged people who live in them are
growing into the earth, and one wonders whether
the flowerpots are standing on the window sills or
growing from the street.
From inside one neither sees nor hears anything.
The little houses are wrapped in snow as in thick,
warm blankets. Their walls are stopped up, like deaf
ears. The wind blows the snow onto the windows, it
fills up the cracks, but the old lace curtains do not
shake even the tiniest bit. Over the roofs, the chimney
smoke roams freely, like a drunken goy. It seems as if it
felt too hot from the heat in the houses: the smoke is
restless, stretches to all sides, tries to get out of the
chimneys by force. The little houses sweat under
snow, a white sweat.
"Here, here, you dreaming slowpoke! Why are
you gaping in all directions?" Abrashke suddenly
bursts out into resounding laughter and pelts me with
snowballs from across the street. "You crazy duck,
stop yelling! People will be coming from all doors!"
"In this cold? What do you want to bet?"
From behind a fence a white tree looms up appar
ently an old tree. The snow is piled up on it like a
dozen cushions on grandmother's bed. The branches
can hardly bear up under it. Abrashke scrambles up
the fence, climbs the tree, and gives it a shake.
The whole tree begins to quiver. Lumps of snow
fall from it like stones. A bare branch cracks and
"You wicked creature!" I protest. "Isn't there
enough snow on the street for you? Does it bother
you if it lies on the tree?"
"It's my tree just as much as yours! Are you a close
relative of it, or what?"
I feel like running into a little house, no matter
whose. Perhaps a little old woman will be standing
behind the door, and I can hide from Abrashke in her
warm, wadded skirts.
Grandfather's house is at the very end of the street.
It is a little house like all the others the same flower
pots, the same carved shutters with panels cut like
candy bars and with snow stuffed into their little
holes; there is the same smoke over the roof. But the
house looks whiter and warmer than all the others.
Abrashke runs up to the door and instantly pulls
the bell cord. The bell gives a hoarse cough and falls
"Ah, so you're here akeady, children! I'm only
about to go to market, and they're already coming for
This welcome is from Fride, grandmother's old
cook. She opens the door. A shawl is around her
shoulders. "B-r~r-r! What cold you have brought
with you! Come in, quickly. Is it really so cold in the
street? Shall I put another kerchief around me, like
She stamps her feet, and as she stamps her summer
freckles jump on her face. In the winter they look
like dried drops of fat that she has forgotten to wash
off. She is always in a hurry, she is always in a dither.
She says that she is about to go to market. But she
has already cooked her dinner. We can smell some
thing roasting in the kitchen.
"Fride, will you let us taste a roasted potato?"
"How do you know that I'm roasting potatoes?"
"Fride, is grandfather still asleep?"
"Who is asleep? What's this talking of sleep? Isn't
he studying the Talmud all the time? Scat!" She pushes
the cat out of her marketing basket. "She's invented
something new! Creeping into my basket!"
The noise awakens the cat. A gleam shoots from
the slits of her eyes; she sees the snow sticking to our
feet, lifts her tail, pricks up her whiskers, and stretches
toward us to lick the flakes of cold snow. The snow
melts under her nose and she begins to sneeze.
"A cat's brain!" Abrashke says, pulling her by the
tail. "It would be better to go tell grandmother that
"Why bother the cat? She is such a lazybones! I
can go much faster than she! "
Grandmother comes in. She moves silently, as
though her gentle smile softened her footsteps too.
"Such cold, children, and yet you're here? You're
surely on an important errand," she says smiling.
"And take your things off quickly, Bashinke! Warm
yourself by the stove but look out, don't bum your
self. I've just closed the chimney."
Grandmother stands near us in bewilderment. "Do
you want a glass of warm milk?" she asks. "It's so
early, what shall I give you for a treat?"
She does not know what to do firstwhether to
help us to take our coats off or to go and look for a
treat for us. Her white face and her white hair shine.
The flowers on her cap are abloom as if it were mid
summer. She herself is soft, stout, warm like the
heated white-tiled stove.
In this house there is no room to move around.
Everywhere it is cluttered up with furniture and
hangings, as though grandmother, in her constant fear
of catching cold, were as much afraid of any bit of
free space as of a draft.
"Grandmother, it's a holiday today, Hanukkah!"
Abrashke assails her at once.
"What are you talking about? But even if it is
Hanukkah, you shouldn't knock your grandmother
down! May you be spared by the evil eye, you have
grown recently!" And grandmother rocks on her
Abrashke is frightened. What bad luck, if grand
mother should be angry!
"All the same, you're a good boy, Avreml! " Grand
mother smiles. "Coming so early in the morning with
the tidings! I was just going to ask grandfather. With
out you I'd never have known, you little rascal! Well,
first of all, go and kiss the mezuzah. Haven't your
teachers told you to do that?"
"Grandmother, and what about me?" I put in. "I
want to kiss it too!"
"Where are you pushing to, small fry? You're a
girl, aren't you?" Abrashke shoves me away along
with the cat, which is tangled up with my legs.
He is lucky. He is a boy, and he can show off. Per
haps it would really be better to be a cat instead of
a short little girl whom he is always mocking.
"Stop teasing the little one!" Suddenly grand
mother puts her hands to her head as though re
calling something. "You haven't caught cold, God
forbid? Come, I'll give you something, Bashinke!"
"Raspberries, grandma?" I run after her. I know
that when grandmother says "a cold" she will hunt
up a jar of raspberries that is stored away in her ward
robe with all the other jams.
"Here, Bashinke, take it with you," she says, "And
tell mother to give you a glass of hot tea with rasp
berries before you go to sleep. Tell her it's a remedy
for everything and the best cure for a cold."
"Grandma, where is grandpa?" my brother asks.
"We don't see him."
"Go in there he is, standing by the stove."
Through the half-open door of the dining room we
see, shining like a white mirror, a great white-tiled
stove, and next to the stove, swaying like a black
shadow, our grandfather. And we thought that he
was still asleep! Asleep, indeed! It seems to me that
ever since we last saw him it was on the Sabbath-
he has been standing just that way next to the stove
and has not even once lain down to sleep. He is wear
ing the same coat, a long one, of thin black lustrous
material, and full of wrinkles like his forehead. The
same coat, summer and winter and under the coat
his slight body vanishes, as though he had no body
His face is shining. His eyes are pensive. With one
hand he is stroking a small hair in his beard, with the
other he seems to be unraveling a knot in the air, and
he sways. It looks as if he were interpreting something
for himself from a book that is lying on the table, and
moving the debated text from one side of his head
to the other.
He does not see the two of us. His spectacles have
climbed up on his forehead, and his thick, bristling
eyebrows conceal his eyes. His white beard falls like
a pile of snow. And the patches of cheek that show
from under his forelocks are also white. Single veins
stand out red under his delicate skin, perhaps because
they have been warmed up by the stove.
We are afraid to go close to him. His shadow sways
against the white tiles. I fancy that grandfather is
standing far from us, with one foot in the other
"Bashke, look!" My brother pulls my sleeve.
"Look, the ten-kopek piece is lying on the table!"
Dear grandfather! He has thought even of that!
And I imagined that he thought only of the things
But grandfather still does not turn his head away
from the window. The sun is shining and is reflected
in his eyes, as though they had drawn in all the light
of heaven. Now they seem to flash. In the window
hangs the Hanukkah lamp of old, tarnished silver,
with empty branches instead of candles. But grand
father's eyes, like a lighted taper, kindle all the eight
branches at once.
"Grandpa!" We cannot wait while he seems so
unaware of us and then we stop, frightened by the
sound of our own voices.
"Ha? What is it?" Grandfather wakes up suddenly
as if from sleep. "Aige, I think someone has come in.
Please go and see."
"It's just Alta's children, Avreml and little Bashke!"
grandmother calls to him from her room.
Grandfather turns his white head toward us. Seeing
us he smiles. His face crinkles up, and with this smile
grandfather has changed, has become another man.
His face has melted like warm wax.
"And I thought" grandfather lets his glasses drop
from his forehead and gazes at my brother from be
hind them "I thought that Avreml is going to be bar-
mizvah next year, God willing, and that he no longer
thinks of Hanukkah money. Isn't that so, Avreml?"
And grandfather lightly pinches his cheek.
"Well, come over here," he goes on, "shall I test
you? Tell me" his soft voice breaks "how far have
you got in the chumash? You've been studying with
the rebbe for several seasons."
The ten-kopek coin gleams on the table. Abrashke's
head turns. The silver piece tantalizes his eyes. It lies
so near, quite near to him. He can almost touch it,
stroke it with his hand. He is dying to see what is
stamped on the other side of it will it be the same
eagle as always, or not?
Grandfather's voice hums in Abrashke's ears, but
Abrashke's hand itches to spin the coin over the table
at least once. The oilcloth is slippery, and the coin
would fly like a top. It might even slide off the table,
and then it would be gone. Then he would have to
look for it in all the cracks of the floor!
In his fright, Abrashke's round eyes pop out of
his head. He says to himself that he must snatch the
ten-kopek piece before grandfather starts questioning
him and testing him about all the passages that he has
learned and already forgotten.
And what if grandfather should think of taking the
chumash out of the bookcase, and of all things-
should ask Abrashke to recite just as he has to do it in
cheder with the rebbe? That way the whole day will
go by! And it will get dark! And where will he get a
driver and sleigh, where a horse? Who will wait for
him? All the boys are already out riding, packed into
the sleighs, and he
Abrashke feels his heart sinking. He will fall asleep
here, he thinks, together with grandfather, near the
Abrashke thrashes about, hot and restless, as though
he instead of the firewood were burning inside the
hot stove. It is heartbreaking to see him. His fingers
tremble. His head seems swollen. And his eyes sparkle,
as though the silver ten-kopek piece had got into
"Ten kopeks!" Abrashke keeps saying to himself.
And if he should get another ten kopeks from father,
he would be able to ride all over town! What sleigh
driver would not take him? He, Abrashke, needs only
the silver coin in his hand. If he shows just one edge
of it to Ivan the coachman, the man's eyes will pop
out of his head. He will get excited, the knave he
will try to persuade Abrashke that nothing can equal
his horse, his sleigh. Hasn't he inherited them from a
"In this sleigh of mine," Ivan will say, "there lies
a black fur robe. Never mind if it looks like an old
dead goat. The landowner's children used to cover
themselves with the fur!"
And as for his horse Ivan will even whistle with
enthusiasm all one needs to do is to whip it well, and
it will fly like an eagle! It's no ordinary horse the
landowner's wife herself used to ride it.
"And what about my bells? Don't they ring like
all the church bells at once? Just sit down, and let my
horse get started" Ivan's thick voice trumpets in my
Abrashke cannot stand it any longer. He lunges
forward, seizes the coin.
"Eh, don't grab! Take your time. Why are you in
such a hurry? You should be anxious to learn your
Abrashke raises his head. Who is speaking? Not
Ivan! Grandfather's bony hand is resting on his
"Baruch, give them their ten kopeks. It's a bit of
joy for the children! Don't you see," grandmother
says to grandfather, "his skin is burning! The boy
cannot sit still And the little one is standing there al
most in a daze!"
Holding our breath, we run out of grandfather's
warm little house, clutching the ten-kopek piece.
My brother tears through the streets. The snow is
actually burning under his feet. He does not stop
twisting his hand; he seems to be trying to make the
silver coin tinkle in his glove.
One thought is drumming in his head: "Is there still
a sleigh to be had? A horse?"
I stop for a momentone of my galoshes has
"That's what happens to you when you start some
thing with a girl! You're just a fool!" Abrashke yells
at me instead of helping me. "Will you stop daw
dling? First grandpa, and now you, with your ga
loshes! All the sleighs will be taken!"
"It isn't my fault! They're new galoshes and they
fall off my feet." I want to hurt him too. And I fling
at him: "Grandpa is surely angry at you because you
wouldn't recite for him."
"What else? Why are you bothering me? Instead,
tell me whom we should ride with Ivan, or Berel the
Crooked-legged? He limps on one leg, Berel does!"
"Who can see whether he limps? He sits in one
spot, and certainly his horse has straight legs!"
"Why might not his horse have crooked legs too?
I can believe anything about him, that scoundrel!
"Master! Avreml! Little miss!" The drivers catch
sight of us.
They know us. They are always standing at the
corner of the street. Because of cold and boredom,
they keep blowing into their hands and clapping them.
"Got your Hanukkah money?" one calls out.
"How much did they give you? Come, show me!
Well then, climb in, little girl!"
The drivers wrangle. One elderly driver he seems
very cold blows a thick vapor out of his mouth, as
though trying to warm himself that way. When he
talks, his frozen goatee moves up and down like a
hatchet chopping every word that leaves his lips.
"Better come with me," he says. "Don't even think of
him! Don't you see that his horse is an old jade like
"He'll put ten horses like yours inside his chest any
time!" the other shouts. "May the angel of death
snatch you away! You"
The drivers never stop reviling each other.
"Come on, they're all trying to cheat you, master!
You've always ridden with me! Just look, little lady,
how warm you'll be under the black fur!" Ivan runs
in front of all the sleighs and slides up almost against
He looks like a sack all filled up, but he bends
lightly to one side, and, just as though we were his
former masters, he unbuttons his worn-out sheepskin
rug, and in a trice we are in his sleigh.
"Fie!" The other drivers spit. "What can you
do about a devil like that!"
Ivan snaps his whip. One swish of it through the
air, and the horse begins to tremble. It lifts up its tail
like a cat showered with cold water.
"Giddap, you old nag, giddap!" Ivan becomes ex
cited, he lifts himself from his seat.
The little bells ring out and then do not stop
"Hup, hup!" goads Ivan.
Yells and lashes fly, scald the horse's cold rump like
boiling water. And the steaming horse, as though try
ing to run away from Ivan, strains its body, heaves its
flanks. Its own tail lashes it more violently than the
whip. Its big legs bang against the shafts they seem
to be trying to tear off their own skin.
In the sleigh we lurch with the jolting of the
horse. Now we sink in the snow, now we are tossed
up high. There is no time to catch our breath. We are
carried along as if we had wings.
"Come on, cholera, giddap! Huh! Ha! Hup, hup!"
Now Ivan is yelling like a madman. He whistles,
cracks his whip, roars, lifts himself up, wriggles his
rump. A mountain of snow falls from his back onto
us. A cloud of snow tears by at our side, chases us
Snow splashes the horse's muzzle. Its eyes are drip
ping with snow. Snow blankets its head, its back.
Snow blows out of its nostrils, a thick steam rises
from its mouth. The horse, as though it were drunk,
shakes its mane, shakes the bells.
We swim behind it as in a current of water. On
both sides the town flies by, one street blurs and tum
bles into another. Thick snow whirls in the streets
like flour spilling from sacks. Where are we? In a
flash we have flown past the big city park. Only a
moment ago it stood, full of trees, on a high hill
and suddenly it is gone like a snowflake in the air.
And where is our big church? Who could ever move
it from its place? And now it has slid by, detached
itself from the ground; from its white walls there
came a gust of snow, its cross had barely time to flash
its gold and pierce the sky.
My cheeks are burning, stinging. I stretch out my
hands, trying to snatch at some houses, streets. But
everything runs away from me. Windows, shutters,
signs, all are carried away by the wind, swallowed up
by the snow.
We are now far from the town, as if we had flown
off into the air; I no longer see anything. The frost bites
us. Snow glues up my eyes, stings my eyebrows. My
head is cold. Snow has got into my hair my hair has
turned hard, one could cut it with a knife. My neck
is wet. My collar is full of snow.
I stamp my feet. The fur blanket has long ago be
come soaked with snow. It only makes me colder.
My feet are like blocks of wood, there is no way of
lifting them. I want to rouse Abrashke. What is the
matter with him?
The wind whistles; I no longer hear my brother.
Only a minute ago he was neighing like the horse.
Why is there no steam coming from his mouth any
longer? My face burns. Are we being frozen?
Mother, mother! Where is mother? Has she ran
away into the sky too? She will scold: "Where are
you? Where on earth have you gone off to?"
The sleigh suddenly stops, almost spilling us.
"And where are the ten kopeks?" Ivan's gruff voice
His felt glove, thick as a bear's leg, thrusts itself
before our eyes. He pulls the ten kopeks out of
Abrashke's glove. His whip stuck under his belt, Ivan
spits into one hand, into the other, tosses the coin as
though weighing it, puts it between his teeth.
"Real silver, strong as iron!" he booms out, laugh
"Ivan, where are we?" I ask.
"You're home, little girl, home!"
I turn around. True enough, the big church is
standing behind us, as always. Its walls, its roof, its
cross, have all come back from the sky. And the sky
itself has closed up, driven off the clouds, A single
stray little star shines from it.
On the hill the big park has grown anew. Houses,
shops, windows, everything is standing on its base
We crawl out of the sleigh. Where have we come
Ivan has brought us to our own big, broad street.
A QUITE different world opens before me when I
only just push at the heavy door that separates
the shop from our apartment.
It is a door entirely covered with tin. Instead of a
latch it has a big key that is always in the lock. In
the dark rear shop, into which I tumble first, I grope
along the walls as though I were blind. Thick yellow
sheets of paper rustle underfoot.
Wrapped-up wall clocks rest on the floor here.
Until they are hung on walls, they do not move; they
lie quiet and soundless, as if buried alive. But the
stuffy air of the dark chamber seems swollen with the
voices that seep in from the shop. The voices crowd
against the high wooden wall and recoil from it again. I
stand behind it as in a prison, and listen to what is
being said. I want to make out whose voice is talking.
And if I catch mother's voice, I am content.
But wait! Is her voice quiet, calm, or, God forbid,
angry? Mother's voice will give me warning, tell me
whether to go into the shop or not.
Her high tones encourage me. I touch the curtain
of the last door, which leads to the shop. I become
dizzy at once because of the mirrors and glass. All
the clocks are being wound in my ears. The shop is full
of glitter on every side. The flashing of silver and
gold blinds me like fire; it is reflected in the mirrors,
roams over the glass drawers. It dazzles my eyes.
Two large gas chandeliers bum high up under the
ceiling, humming loudly; the sound becomes a moan
of pain. Fire spatters from the close-netted caps on
the burners that barely hold back the sparks.
There are two high walls entirely lined from top
to bottom with glass cupboards. The cupboards reach
up to the ceiling and are so solidly built that they
seem to have grown into it. Their glass doors slide
easily back and forth. Through the glass one can
clearly see all the objects on display, almost touch
them with one's hand.
On the shelves are goblets, wineglasses, sugar
bowls, saucers, braided baskets, milk and water
pitchers, boxes for etrogim, fruit bowls. Everything
shines and glitters with a newly polished look. When
ever I move, all the objects run after me in reflection.
The fire of the lamps and the light of the silver cross
each other. Now the silver drowns in a flash of the
lamplight, now it re-emerges with an even sharper
On the opposite wall there is another glass cup
board. Behind its panes are objects not of silver but of
white metal, and their gleam is much more modest,
In the center of the shop, on three sides, there rise,
as if from the floor itself, three inner walls-long
counters with drawers. They divide the shop into
two sections. All laid out with glass, full of gold ob
jects, they glitter like magical arks. Little stones of
all colors, framed in gold rings, earrings, brooches,
bracelets, flicker there like lighted matches.
In this air full of fire it is quite impossible to see
that the floor is dark. At the front, at the very feet of
the customers, entire silver services shine through the
glass. And so even the customers' black shoes glitter
and catch reflections along with the silver.
The third wall is dim even by day. Overgrown
with long hanging clocks, it looks like a forest of dark
trees. There are wall clocks of various sizes. Some
have big, squat cases with thick hanging chains sup
porting heavy copper weights. Other wall clocks
have narrower, slimmer bodies. Their chains are
lighter, more movable, with smaller weights attached.
In the bellies of all of them pointed pendulums dangle
like swords, swinging restlessly back and forth.
Among the large wall clocks smaller ones are hid
ing, and even tiny ones; one can see only the white
dials, their round moon faces. They have no wooden
bellies, and their chain legs move in the open, before
everyone's eyes, up and down.
The whole wall of clocks sighs and breathes heav
ily. From each box come smothered groans, as though
at every moment someone were being killed on the
Suddenly I begin to quake. One of the heavy
clocks awakens, and, like an old man rousing, it
utters such a groan that I look around quickly to see
whether its body has fallen apart.
Heavily it strikes the hours. My heart pounds with
its heart. And I am glad when the minute hand moves
away a bit from the hour hand, giving me time to
catch my breath before the old thing utters another
Another clock acts as though it were blowing its
nose, or hoarsely rending its throat in broken
In contrast, the little clocks have high, thin little
voices. They wail like children awakened in terror
in the middle of the night.
The clocks move, their pendulums swing, for days
and nights on end. When do they rest?
Suddenly several clocks together begin to chime.
Do they do it on purpose, in order not to let me hear
how each one sounds by itself?
I turn my head from one clock to another. I am
bewildered. I hear voices that seem to come straight
from the earth.
These are the little alarm clocks lying on the floor
in cardboard boxes. Like clamoring brats they awaken
the old wall clocks.
I rush to twist their little heads in order to make
them stop yelling. But I stop halfway. My heart
melts. A gentle song rises on the air. I know that it is
a music box that is singing. I quickly open its lid. The
song flies out like a bird from its nest. In the box there
surges a sea of little wires, springs, wheels. Like
waves they lift tiny millstones, jump over them,
quickly run down, swim in the melody as in the cur
rent of a stream. Each little spring, each little wheel
breaks into sound. They hum the melody till they
lose their breath.
I go quite close to the music box; I want to assure
it that someone is listening, that it must not stop play
ing. But suddenly the little wheels stop. I do not close
the lid. I wait perhaps it will want to sing again.
Sueh a warm world has risen from the dark one
and spread over the whole shop! Even the wall clocks
are holding their breath.
Every night, before going to sleep, one of my
brothers goes to have a look at the shop. My parents
send him to see whether everything is in order,
whether, God forbid, a burglar has not broken in. I
too want to see how all the objects on display sleep
there at night.
As soon as the big key of the metal door creaks,
I shudder. I am afraid to go there, even with my
brother. What if the angel of death with all his devils
were concealed there?
But they have a little light. A small table lamp
burns there overnight. The wick is twisted. The
smoke of the smothered flame drags out our shadows,
whirls them before my eyes.
A smoky veil covers also the wall with the shelves
of silver. Only here and there, a sleepy eye seems to
open a carved flower sparkles, a raised ornament
flickers; suddenly a full glow of silver light shines
forth, like the moon rolling out from behind the
I am afraid to go closer to the wall of the clocks.
They hang on black nails, as though eternally cruci
fied. It seems to me that open graves sigh there. The
clocks are barely moving, their pendulums drag like
limping feet. The white dials with their black dots
wink with faded eyes, like specters.
I hear them from a distance and help them to sigh.
It seems to me that they are calling me, that they are
prodding me in the back. With a heavy heart I leave
I see that in our apartment, in our dining room,
there is also a wall clock, but it is enclosed inside a
high, carved cabinet. One does not hear its heart
pound, one does not see its outstretched legs. It strikes
the hours with a muffled tone that has no spirit.
A WHITE snow, a pale sun. With the early morn
ing Purim has come. A thin frost has carved
white horses with heroic riders on the window panes.
A little wind brings the tidings: today is a holiday!
My brother Abrashke and I have run to meet it.
We received Purim money. The copper coins clinked
in our hands. We ran to the meat market on the
square. We found it already full of stir like a fair.
The old, dilapidated tables were blanketed with
white hole-riddled tablecloths, as with snow blown
in. The tables were set as for a wedding. Women and
children stamped around the tables, as the men do
in shul during the ceremony of hakkaf ot. The tables
were dazzling, bewitching.
A whole world of little beings of frozen candy was
spread on the tables. Little horses, sheep, birds, dolls,
and cradles their red-yellow dots seemed to wink at
us, to show that they were still alive, that they were
not yet quite dead. Little golden fiddles looked as
though they had fallen asleep while playing a last
melody. Mordecais and Ahasueruses on horseback
seemed to be raising themselves in the saddle.
The cold sun occasionally cast his rays on all these
dreamlike Purim gifts and hardly warmed their coats
of sugar. Abrashke and I elbowed up close to the
tables, as if we were trying to rescue the frozen toys
with our own breath. We wanted to take them all
with us. On the street here, wouldn't they be frozen
"Children, let's get on with it! Choose your pres
ents and go home!" The freezing vendor interrupted
As though it were easy to choose! Our hearts
pounded. We looked at the Purim toys, hoping that
they themselves would tell us which of them wanted
to go with us, which to remain.
How could one let them go out of one's hands?
And what should we take? A big horse or a small
one? My friend Zlatke might think that in giving
her the bigger horse I wanted to show off, yet she
would be more pleased with it than with the smaller
one. So I touched the little horse in front and in back.
"Bashke, what are you doing? It's dangerous to
touch it!" my brother teased me.
I let go of the horse, as though I feared that it
might bite me. My teeth were chattering, either from
cold or from the temptation of the thought whisper
ing to me that all these little horses and little violins
were the sweetest of all sweets, and that it would feel
good to be crunching them alive in one's month.
"If yon wish, I'll deliver your Purim presents," said
a tall, scrawny boy coming np to us.
"Sure, yes come with us!"
His round, sad eyes, the eyes of a much-beaten
dog, drew us after him. And like a dog he ran in front
"What's your name?" we asked him.
Pinye? That is a strange name, like a bird's,
"Can you whistle?"
At home we spread our Purim gifts on two plates,
one plate for Abrashke and the other for me.
The little sugar animals seemed to come back to
life in the warm air. Their little cheeks began to
glisten. Frightened, I blew on them, so that they
should not melt from the heat. That would be the
last straw that our presents should melt, fall apart
in little bits. More than once we changed the plates,
picked among the presents, sorted them. I clung
particularly to the little candy violin. It nestled in
my fingers, stroked them, like a toy bow, as if it were
trying to play a melody on them.
"And if I send the little violin to my friend,
it will surely never come back to me," I thought,
feeling a stab in my heart.
But Pinye, the errand boy, was shuffling his feet,
waiting for our presents. Trembling with emotion,
we gazed for the last time on our plates, wrapped
them each in a kerchief, and gathered together the
"Pinye, see, here are onr Purim gifts. But you
mustn't run, mind you! Better walk slowly! You
must not God forbid slip on the wet snow with the
plates. And don't turn around! You might be pushed!
What is the matter, are you asleep? Why do you look
at us as in a dream? " And we shook the boy by his
Pinye started from his place and at once began to
run. The plates shook in his hands.
"Don't rush like that, Pinye! Have you no time?
What's the hurry? Watch out, hold fast to the cor
ners of the kerchiefs!" we shouted after him.
Oh, he'll make trouble, that boy, I said to myself.
He has such long legs! Our presents will tumble over
on one another. And suppose an ear of the horse
breaks off on the way, or the top of the curved little
violin falls off? What will our friends think? That we
sent them broken presents?
"Where are you, Pinye?"
But Pinye has vanished.
Right now, I keep thinking, Pinye has turned into
the little street where my friend Zlatke lives. The
black latch of the door is lifted from inside, and from
behind the door Zlatke appears, as though she had
been waiting for the messenger.
"Are the two for me?" And Zlatke stretches out
"No, this one is yours!" And Pinye probably con
fuses our plates.
Zlatke snatches the little plate from Pinye's hands
and runs to her bedroom. Pinye remains standing
In the kitchen, Zlatke's mother is busying herself.
With a long iron fork she lifts a big black pot and
pushes it into the oven. Pinye's tongue hangs out of
his mouth. He wants to eat. The roasted meat and
potatoes smell so good.
"Zlatke, why does it take so long? Have you fallen
asleep there, or what? Ai, what children get excited
about! Going wild over nothing!"
Zlatke's mother turns to the boy with a cry. "What
are you standing for, you ninny? For the same money
you can sit down!"
Zlatke is somewhat fat, with short little legs, and
she wears her hair in a long, heavy pigtail on her
back. And she always walks so slowly that I get bored
looking at her. Even her big eyes stare as if frozen
in her face. Before she gets through with the Purim
gifts, the Messiah himself might come. She probably
examines my plate from all sides, touches the little
horse and the golden lamb. She puts them to her nose,
to her ears.
Her long pigtail wiggles on her back as though it
were helping her to think. She is unable to fix her
attention on anything. And suppose Zlatke wants to
keep the whole plate?
Oh, why do I think up such false accusations? I
shame myself. Probably Zlatke runs to the drawer
where she keeps her own presents, spreads out her
little horses and lambs, and compares them with mine.
"She is taking the sweet little violin from my plate! "
I think with pounding heart.
And what will she put in its place? Oh, why
doesn't the boy come back? He has vanished as
though forever! I begin to question Abrashke: "Do
you think Pinye has already been at my friend's?"
But my brother teases me. He thinks that being
older than I, and a boy to boot, he can make fun of
me. So he bursts into laughter.
Let him laugh, by all means! I know nevertheless
that he too is waiting for Pinye, that he is dying to
see what has remained on his plate, and what gifts for
him have been added on it. To whom is he boasting?
Don't I see that he keeps looking out of the window,
watching for the return of our Pinye?
"You know, Bashke," he says, "Pinye probably
won't be back for at least an hour. You know that
my friend Motke lives on the other side of the river.
And by the time that dreamy Pinye crosses the
bridge, we shall be falling asleep. How can you ex
pect him not to stop to have a look at what is going
on in the river? Perhaps the ice has begun to break!"
And what if Abrashke is right? I am bursting with
"Pinye is capable of anything," I agree with my
brother. "That's all he has to do inspect the whole
river! He won't even be back for the meal!"
"Yon dumb cluck, you believe everything! I've
just made that up!" My brother is now rolling with
Suddenly he pushes me to one side and like a cat
scrambles down all the stairs that lead to the kitchen.
Pinye is knocking at the door.
"Ah, you brats, why do you make so much noise?"
the fat cook yells at us. "You idlers! All day long you
roam about here you don't give me a chance to do
anything. Out of the kitchen!"
We drag Pinye into the house. First we look into
his eyes, then into the plates. He has probably seen
what kind of presents have been sent us in exchange
Well, the little violin must be gone! I read it in
Pinye's sad eyes. I open the kerchief on my plate.
Yes, she did take the pretty little violin! And I have
no other violin, and I don't need the doll she has given
me. I've got two like it. Abrashke has given me his.
And that's what made her fuss for a whole hour! In
anger I bite my lips.
What? He is laughing again, Abrashke, and even
that silly Pinye too! I can't look at them any more.
Abrashke is lucky. He can afford to be in a good
mood. Motke has put a big horse on his plate. In his
enthusiasm, Abrashke neighs like a real horse.
Weeping, I run to the kitchen.
"Why do you make such a long face?" The cook
throws the words at me while chopping onions.
"What is the matter, did yon get a bad Purim gift?"
And she keeps on babbling in her usual fashion, as
though she were chopping the onions with her
tongue, and she spatters me with wet crumbs. "What
a misfortune that is! May you have no greater grief
until your hundred-and-twentieth year! Silly girl,
you'll surely forget about it before your wedding!"
Whether because of the onions or because of her
words, my eyes begin actually to drop tears.
"Here, take your little Haman-tash." And the cook
squeezes into my hands a triangular cake, bursting
with heat and with the poppyseed with which it
My hands at once become wet and warm as though
somebody had kissed them.
"You see, Bashutke, there was no reason for cry
ing!" Sasha cheers me with her smile. "You know
what? Just wait a while when I'm through with my
work, I'll run out for a minute and exchange your
doll for a violin."
"Darling Sasha!" I creep into her skirts, stuffed
underneath like a whole wardrobe, and wipe my eyes
on her sleeves.
"That's enough, Bashutke, go now, let me work!
It will be mealtime soon! Why do you keep spinning
around me, you crazy girl?" And she pushes me away
In the dark rear shop I bump into something hard.
Aha, a woven basket! This must be mother's Purim
gifts prepared for our uncles and aunts. A basket
packed full of good things! How can mother send
them away so improvidently? The basket will have
bottles of red and white wine, bottles of sweet syrups,
big pears, wooden boxes with cigars heaped on one
another like blocks; there will be cans of sprats and
sardines, and amidst all this a new red tablecloth with
Mother has been busy in the shop, as always, and
probably has forgotten her Purim presents. Doesn't
she even think of them? The basket will soon be car
ried away! And isn't she waiting at all for the presents
that she will get?
I imagine my good Aunt Rachel's delight over
mother's presents: "Lord of the Universe! So many
good things! And all that for me! Ah, Alta, you'll
spoil me altogether!"
My aunt's weak heart is choked with joy. She sniffs
at the basket; she seems instantly to be made drunk
by all the good smells, for she closes her eyes. Then
she awakens as if from a dream. She feels the table
cloth, lifts it in the air, strokes it. She might be saying
a benediction: "Thank you, Altinke! May God in
heaven grant you many healthful and happy years!
How could you guess so truly? I really needed a new
tablecloth for Pesach, to honor my guests."
And suddenly my aunt fancies that a speck of dust
has fallen on the new tablecloth. She blows away the
speck, and fearing that the tablecloth may become
soiled before the Passover, she carefully lays it in its
How many baskets with presents have been carried
through the streets from one house to another! And
the things they were filled with! The scrawny woman
messengers were hardly able to hold them up.
"Is Itchke at home?"
I suddenly hear an unfamiliar voice in the kitchen.
In the doorway stands a little old Jewish woman,
wrapped in a big shawl. In her hands she holds a
yellowed candy horse as one holds a little live chicken.
"Bashinke, gut yom-tov!" And she smiles at me
with her thin lips. "Is Itchke in? There's a Purim
present for him!"
She lifts the little horse. She wants to show me how
big and beautiful her present is. And indeed, the little
horse almost seems to be bigger and fatter than she is.
A strange woman, like someone just out of a mad
house. Was she really once my brother Itchke's
nurse? Now he is tall and big how could he have had
this little woman for a nurse?
My brother has for many years been living abroad,
studying medicine, but the old woman comes every
Purim to bring him a gift. The dried-up nurse always
explains that she wants to have a look at her Itchke.
Mother presses a silver coin into her hand and tells
her In a low voice, as though fearing to frighten her,
that Itchke is not at home, and that she can take back
her little horse: the present may come in handy next
year, God willing. And actually the little horse grows
yellower and yellower every year.
One day the old woman found Itchke at home. But
when she saw in the doorway a grown-up young
man, she was so frightened that she ran out of the
kitchen as if someone were chasing her. She even
forgot to hand him the little horse.
No one stopped her. And since then she has not
Mother distributes gifts among the people she em
ploys in the house and in the shop. Something glistens
in her fingers. A pair of golden earrings and a ring
stick out from their tissue paperpresents for the
maids. At every holiday they receive golden things.
And they are happy to think that they are collecting
jewelry, although they have never married.
I look at our bookkeeper. Usually quiet, wordless,
he now becomes talkative and his mustache quivers.
His hands stroke a new silver watch.
Huneh, the clerk, quietly folds a white silken ker
chief that mother has given him for his young wife.
Unlike him, Rose, the salesgirl, fills the shop with
her loud enthusiasm, turns about before the mirror,
boasts to everyone of her beautiful medallion, her
Purim present. The cashier has received some money.
Although she is busy all day long with a box full of
money, she has found herself short of funds.
The watchmaker receives some bottles of wine he
has enough watches in his table drawer. The faces of
all of them are radiant, as though a wedding were
being celebrated in the shop.
"Close the shop! It will soon be dinnertime!"
Father's voice breaks into the noisy gathering.
THE BOOK OF ESTHER
FTER the heavy frosts, winter suddenly withdraws.
The snow caves in. The ice loses its luster.
Winds arrive with new odors from far-off places and
drive away the cold.
With the winds, Purim pushes closer. It comes
knocking at our door,
One night, a tall scrawny Jew comes in and stands
in the kitchen doorway, like an exhausted messenger
from afar. His face is buried under hair. His black
beard is all tangled. Apparently no wind was able to
blow through its thick tufts. His forelocks, like little
braids, reach down from under his cap to fall into his
beard. His eyebrows, thick, bristling, overhang his
deep, sunken little eyes like a gabled roof.
Panting, the newcomer stands in the doorway. His
beard breathes with him. His big nose, curved like a
horn, blows at his mustache, at his beard, as though
trying to air them at least a little bit.
"Look, Reb Laib is here!" the stranger says.
The cook turns to him.
"Oi, woe is me, and my Haman-tashen are still in
the oven!" She quickly wipes her hands, throws down
her greasy apron, and puts on a pious holiday face.
The man in the doorway is not a beggar who has
come to ask for alms. It is Reb Laib in the flesh, the
megillah reader, who has entered the kitchen.
Every Purim he comes to read the Book of Esther
to us in our house. That is to say, he reads it to
mother, to me, and to the cook. For the shop is open,
and mother has no time to go to listen to the reading
of the Book of Esther in shul.
"Why are you standing in the doorway, Reb
Laib?" Havah is happy because she can exchange a
word with a pious Jew and show him that she is pious
too. "Come in! The mistress is waiting for you. Well,
thank God, we have lived to see Purim! May the All-
Highest bestow a miracle every year, may he thus
save us from all our sufferings!"
She suddenly sobs. The visitor, embarrassed, blinks
his eyes. Perhaps he is late?
Havah grows more voluble. For a moment it seems
to her that the reader has come for her sake, to tell
her a good long story. "Sit down, Reb Laib!" she
says. "All the time on one's feet! One is no longer
a human being that way!"
She pushes up a chair for him. Her own feet are
always swollen, and she thinks only of sitting down.
The man remains standing as though she were not
addressing him. He does not even look at her. His
eyes are lowered, and he has caught a hair of his beard
in his mouth and is chewing it. His long, thin legs are
bent under him. He stands leaning on them as on a
The whole year round, no one sees him. On the eve
of Purim he looks so tired out that he seems to have
roamed all over the world from Purim to Purim. Does
he tell everyone about the miracle of Purim, or does
he look for new miracles in order to be able to re
count them to us along with the story of Esther?
He takes a pinch of snuff, begins to cough, draws
his red handkerchief from his pocket, wipes his
mouth, and as though he were closing it with his
fingers, he finally removes his hand.
"May you be spared from the evil eye, Bashinke,"
he says, winking at me, "you've grown a good deal
during the year! Have you got your rattle? This year
you'll be strong enough to outshout Hainan all by
yourself, eh?" With every word he speaks his mus
tache jumps up and his long yellow teeth stick out of
his mouth, like the yellow keys of an old piano.
I run to mother in the shop, calling her: "Mother,
mother, come quickly! The man has come to read the
Book of Esther to us!"
"Really? Is it as late as that?" She immediately
leaves all the hubbub of the shop. "Children, keep an
eye on the unpacked merchandise! I'll be back soon.
Huneh, see to it that no child leaves the shop, will
you?" She quickly throws instructions to the em
ployees and hurries out.
I run after her. "Mother, do yon know where the
rattle is? The man is asking for it. I'm supposed to
"Ah, let me alone! You're always bothering me
with questions. If you can't get your rattle, you can
stamp your feet."
Upon seeing mother, the visitor stirs from his place.
"Good evening, good evening, Altai" And he wags
"Good evening, good evening, come in, Reb Laib!
It must be late, isn't it? I suppose they've finished re
citing the book at the shul, eh?"
Instead of answering, he smiles shyly into his beard
and goes by us with stooped shoulders, in order not
to touch us, God forbid. As soon as he has passed^ us,
he advances through the apartment with huge strides,
as though he were in the street.
"Bashinke, here is your rattle!" Havah pants into
my ear and pushes a wooden Purim rattle into my
"But it's last year's," I protest. "It's no good. It
doesn't rattle any more!"
"May all my enemies be stricken as hard as you can
strike with this to deafen Haman! You'll see, Reb
Laib will tell you the same thing."
The megillah reader has stopped at the bookcase;
he opens its two doors wide and thrusts in his hand,
long as a shovel. Without looking he grasps from out
of some corner the scroll that he tucked away there a
year ago. The quiet bookcase rocks, and several books
are scattered to one side. As though in anger, they
give off a little cloud of dust.
Reb Laib catches up the scroll and carries it like
a treasure. The white silken cover of the scroll, its
embroidered golden letters, its crowns, cast a sunny
light on the reader's dark face. Even his beard be
comes transparent. Revived, cheered, he goes to the
table. He does not even cast a glance at us. He re
moves his cap. His black velvet skullcap adds more
luster to him. On his shoulders his short talis spreads
like a pair of white wings.
"Silence!" He bangs with his hand. He probably
imagines that he is about to recite in a shul packed
full of people.
"Silence!" He bangs the table again, although the
three of us are standing there in utter quiet.
He gathers his strength. He bows to the scroll,
kisses it, removes its cover. And like Samson pushing
at the pillars of the temple, he leans on the handles
of the scroll and unrolls it. A musty smell comes from
the yellow scroll as he unfurls it wide. A little heap
of black lines arrayed in equal rows like stairs stands
up on the table. Reb Laib raises his head, cranes his
long, gooselike neck.
"Ho-ho! Ah-ah!" He makes a gargling sound and
clears his voice.
The chandelier shines in his face. He stares into the
light. As though he had absorbed its fire, his face
lights up. He sways to one side, to the other, and
then, in a high, chanting voice, he sings out the first
benedictions of the scroll. All three of us repeat them
The reader, once set going, does not stop. Har
nessed to the table, leaning on the scroll, he rocks his
body as if someone were prodding him. The stiff
parchment rustles in his hands. A noise arises around
I imagine that the entire array of lines has begun to
move and that they are whirling as on wheels.
Here is King Ahasuerus coming down from his
castle. A whole host of soldiers is thronging after him;
they ride over the lines, trample upon the letters the
words might be little pebbles under the horses' feet.
The reader hurries, recites at a fast pace. In one
breath he takes a whole heap of the letters into his
mouth. Ahasuerus and his soldiers are pursuing him;
each word is a step he gains on them.
He crumples the pages, tears out the lines, and
tosses them high on his throbbing voice. Each line is
drawn out with the melody as though it were threaded
on a string. Now he drags it upward, now he tosses it
out and brings it back all curled up. Then once again
he swallows a few lines, and the same melody drags
them up and down. He seems to veil the whole story
in a trembling cloud.
Only from time to time does he force his voice;
perhaps he hopes that thus he can push Ahasuerus
himself. We listen to him with bated breath. 1 try to
see the king riding by and the moment when Mor-
decai arrives on his white horse.
Mother holds her translated text in. her hand, and
as if she were checking the reader, keeps nodding her
head. Havah the cook, huddling in the doorway, sighs
and snaps her fingers. "It's true, everything he says is
true!" her lips whisper.
I look into the reader's mouth. I cannot keep up
with his fast-moving tongue, which knocks like a little
hammer against his teeth. I cannot reach the place in
the text at which he is reciting. Now he is on this side
of a page, and then the page is already rolled up, and
his eyes have jumped to the next page.
I can hardly wait for the word Haman to come.
God forbid that I should miss it! For I must outshout
Haman all alone. The rattle is sweating in my hands-
God knows whether it will rattle properly.
I move closer to the scroll. I touch its silver han
dles. They bar me off from the yellow parchment like
two big pillars. Just such pillars, I think to myself,
must be standing at the entrance of the king's castle.
They will light up the path for Esther. In a moment
she will come forth in her long dress, with her long,
golden hair. And in fact the lines are now more
widely spaced; a wide square opens up. Now her
radiant face appears.
Suddenly Reb Laib gives me a push. He probably
wants to push me out of the queen's way. I look at
him angrily. But his neck is craned tip to the very
ceiling. Like a thunderclap, his voice crashes out:
"Haman, Hainan, the son of Hammedatha! "
Mother and Havah stamp their feet.
Why did I have to get lost in a dream about Esther
at just this point! I have hardly had a chance to shake
my Haman rattle. Annoyed, I bang it on the table.
Reb Laib catches his breath and plunges into the
story again. I no longer take my eyes off him.
"Haman, Haman!" He nods to mehe seems to be
trying to indicate to me that Haman has run out of
the scroll and that I am to hit him, kill him on the spot.
I bang niy rattle on the table, I stamp my feet, I
yell. If Haman should get away from me, mother or
Havah must catch him.
"Haman! Haman!" the reader now cries out with
each minute, as though not one but a thousand Ha-
rnans had crept out of the scroll
The din of our voices becomes fearful. The reader
rolls the scroll noisily. Page groans after page. What
if we don't manage to kill Haman? Will he strike us
through with his drawn sword? Where are you,
Esther? Hurry, hurry! Perform your miracle!
And actually, Reb Laib stops shouting, stops sway
ing, as though Esther were shining on him from the
newly unrolled page of the scroll. He softens his
voice, adorns the chant as though with delicate flow
ers, and bows, bows, as if he were trying to stroke
"Mother, thank God, Esther has come!" I whisper
All of us feel relief in our hearts. Mother utters a
sigh. Havah's eyes are raisedshe seems to be prais
ing God for having shown his mercy in time.
And under the reader's chant Esther walks down
the stairs of spaced lines. Her long train glistens,
spreads over the empty place on which there is not a
single letter but only white ribbons of light, as though
white candles had been lit on the scroll in honor of
"Amen! Amen!" we chant with the reader.
The melody has run out, and Reb Laib is silent.
His hands remain resting on the scroll. I am standing
and waiting perhaps something more will issue from
his closed mouth, from his beard, which has suddenly
turned black. But there is only silence, as though some
thing had died.
The reader quietly kisses the scroll on both its sides,
just as if they were cheeks, and brings its handles
tightly together. The scroll becomes old, thin. Reb
Laib takes it to the bookcase. We accompany it with
our eyes. We know that we shall not see it again for
a whole year.
Coming back from the bookcase, the reader sud
denly stops and looks at us with his big eyes, and says:
"So only you three have heard me?"
It seemed to him that he had recited the megillah
to the whole world.
THE PURIM PLAYERS
THROUGH the whole day of Purim our house is in
an uproar. Up until the hour of the feast there is a
continual wrapping up and carrying away of gifts.
Here a basket is being filled with good things; there
packages sent by relatives are being unwrapped.
The old woman porter has no strength left, "Be
lieve me," she wails, "I have lost the use of my hands
and feet!" Sighing deeply, she places on the table the
basket she has brought, cracks her knuckles, and sits
u Dvoshe, you'll rest for a whole year," says the
cook. u Go, there is another basket to be taken but
hurry, for it will be time for the dinner soon!" The
cook does not permit her to catch her breath.
In the dining room the chandelier is lighted. The
samovar is brought in, gleaming and bubbling more
Having closed the shop, mother runs into the apart
ment. " Where is Dvoshe?" she asks. Then she recalls
suddenly. "Has she taken the gifts to everyone? To
Aunt Zipe? And my elder sister-in-law? Do you re-
member the bad experience we had with her last year?
Think well you haven't forgotten anyone?' 5
The old porter the same woman serves each year-
knows mother's relatives by heart. "With God's help,
Aha," she says, "I've taken the gifts to all, and all
were happy with your gifts, and wished yon even
more than they have put in the baskets!"
"Well, then, Dvoshe, here is your own Purim gift
have a good holiday!" And mother squeezes a few
coins into her hand.
"Thanks, Altinke! May you too have a good and
cheerful holiday. Let us live in good health and good
luck to see the next Purim, God willing!"
Father sits at the table in his long silken coat. His
beard is brushed, each hair of it is fluffed. His face
is shining under the sparkling chandelier light. From
its flame, little balls of light scatter over the table
cloth. Wherever they jump, a bit of the table is illu
mined. On one side mother's tall candles flare up. The
holiday table is prepared for the feast.
The shames comes in. The gabbai, and a neighbor
whose house is on the courtyard, follow him. They
come to wish father a happy holiday. Father asks
them all to table: "Sit down, Reb Efraim! Sit down,
Reb David! Take a glass of tea while we wait for
So they sit and drink tea as though it were wine.
With each glass they grow more lively, and after
each glass they melt with heat and pleasure.
On the table, at father's hand, there lies ready a little
heap of silver and copper coins. For each beggar who
enters the house, father shoves tip a little mound of
"A merry holiday to you, Reb Shmul Noah! A gut
yom-tov, baleboste!" each of them says, bowing his
The door never closes. We might as well be sitting
in the street with the people walking by us. All of the
poor people of the town pass through our house.
A tall man with a black beard comes up to father
and stands before him. I imagine that King Ahasuerus
in person has come: at any moment all of us will rise
from our seats, even father, and yield him the place
at the head of the table. But the man goes away, not
at all like a king, but with lowered head.
The heap of money grows smaller and smaller.
Who else is to come? For whom is father waiting?
Suddenly the glasses on the table quiver. A noise
conies from the kitchen, as though people were fight
ing there, as though plates and silver were dropping
on the floor. There is jostling, laughter. Feet are
stamping. Men are whistling, laughing. Father and
the guests exchange glances.
"These must be the Purim players!" the shames
The door flies open with a bang, and a whole com
pany of people stumbles in tall ones, small ones, fat
ones, thin ones. They seem to be not only pushing in
from the door but also creeping out from the walls,
from every corner. They have burst open all the
doors and windows.
From everywhere people are popping out. One has
[ iBS ]
a monstrous nose, another a pair of swollen cheeks.
And there is a head like a bine sugar cone. And no
feet are to be seen.
Where are their feet? And they do not stand in one
place. One climbs on top of another, nudges him in
the side, trips him, falls down himself, dragging the
other, and the two roll over. We burst into laughter.
"Sha!" Out of the hurlyburly comes a tall fellow
with a red cardboard nose that he holds with his hand
and tries to paste to his face. Probably his own nose
is even uglier and that is why he conceals it!
"Gut yom-tov, Yehudim! Gut yom-tov, my hosts!
Here comes the merry Purirn, the red nose! 5 ' And he
suddenly begins to whistle through his big nostrils.
Father and the guests nod their heads.
"Gut yom-tov!" all the Purim players repeat in a
chant. Red Nose becomes excited.
"Company of musicians!" he commands. "Why
have you stopped? Let us all make merry, dance!"
And he begins to sing, stamp his feet, clap his hands;
his boots thump like hammers on the floor,
All of them whirl around the room. They all seem
drunk; they tumble, they turn somersaults. Each
wants to distinguish himself, show off as many tricks
"Where are you, Mendl the Drum!" one loud
voice outshouts all the rest.
A fat stuffed figure of a drum comes forward. This
is Mendl. It is as though he had no legs. Behind him
trots a pair of legs that do not belong to him. A long
hand comes out from one side and bangs the drum
on its belly; from behind his ears a pair of brass cym
bals creep out and crash against his head, slapping
Now a trumpet booms, now a horn blows, now a
pipe whistles, and noise bursts out of all of them.
They seem to be whirling right over my head. I no
longer know where to look first. I fancy that they are
crying out in anger at the man with the red nose. He
pushes them all around, does not let anyone play out
his own trick.
"Quiet!" he yells. "Here comes King Ahasueras!"
And he himself steps forward, takes off his red
nose, and puts a golden crown on his head. Al
"Perhaps he'll also play Esther, with his big boots?"
the others murmur.
One of the company cuts across his path. He is rid
ing on a white stick.
"I am Mordecai!" he cries, and at this point an
other actor, wearing a pointed tin head, shakes the
little bells attached to his cap; they tinkle in every
It is as though bells hung not only on his cap, but
even on his feet, on his whole body. Father cannot
stand it any longer; he holds his ears and then wipes
his eyes, which are wet from laughter.
"Ha-ha-ha!" laughs the fat gabbai, and his belly
shakes. "He has come a bit too early, he has stopped
the king instead of Haman!"
"Enough, enough!" Father stops them all "You
surely still have to get around to all the rest of the
town!" His hand scrapes across the table.
Red Nose leaps nimbly he is King Ahasuerus and
snatches all the money that flies off the table. The
company becomes even more excited. Now they are
fighting in earnest. Father's voice separates them.
"Alta, have some drinks served!" he calls.
A glass of brandy is poured for each. Each swal
lows it in one gulp, almost with the glass. Something
like a fire bursts out in them. They revel, they dance.
Eyes sparkle, the drum booms, the pipes whistle, the
cymbals clash, the feet stamp, the bells tinkle, tinkle.
They call, they tug, they pull all of us away. My
head swims. I rush toward them, and all of a sudden
The bells sound less and less, they are quieter and
quieter farther and farther away, as if I myself were
far from them. I turn around. The Purim players are
not there they have all thronged out through the
door. All the sounds run after them now one, now
another. They trickle away.
Where are the Purim players? They seem to have
vanished, as though they had never been. In our house
it is silent, much more silent than before. Only the
chandelier sputters fire, tries to keep up the holiday.
Drinks are served. The table is set. New guests
arrive. I look at the door to see whether the Purim
players are not coming back, "Father," I ask, "where
are the Purim players? Where have they run to? Are
they dancing somewhere? Or are they now walking
in the streets like other people?"
Father looks around him, smiling with the guests.
"Is it time to start dinner, eh?" he calls out.
They all rise from their seats. I follow them, and
in my ears the bells are still tinkling.
U O ASHA? ^ ava k kave y ou f a ^ en asleep in the
Kj kitchen, or what?" cries Israel from the dining
room. "Don't you hear that I'm home?"
He always grumbles, my brother Israel. He is stub
born. He is angry when he is slighted, when the best
portion is given to another. He sits at the table, toys
for a moment with his fork over his plate, then sud
denly shoves it aside. "Look at the piece of meat
youVe given me!" he says. "Just bare bones, nothing
to eat on it!"
A murmur comes from the kitchen, closer and
closer, along with Havah's heavy steps. She pours on
my brother a hail of words: "Why do you all set
upon me? Why are you trying to shorten my years?
Everyone sucks my blood!"
Havah shakes all over her body, Her face is red as
a beet. She is not afraid of the children of the house
hold. And she yells: "You're not an only son here!
Look at this aristocrat! Is it my fault that you come
later than anyone? It's always, 'Havah, Havah, I
want a veal schnitzel! Havah, I want a sweet-sour
kaikele! Havah, I want roasted potatoes with prunes!'
One wants a pancakeof all things another wants
meat, still another milk dishes!"
Havah apes each of us. She grimaces and spits.
"And if you don't satisfy them! They tear things out
of my hands, the brats! I have a hard time keeping
something for the master and mistress!" She clutches
her heart; her chest rises and falls. Suddenly she stops,
compresses her fat lips, and makes a face. "And per
haps you think that I've eaten all the meat? God is
my witness!" She holds her belly. "As though I could
eat anything with my sick stomach," she wails, and
squeezes out a tear. "A whole household is persecut
ing me!" she goes on. "Toiling like a horse! If at
least someone had pity on me!"
"All right, all right, we've heard enough from
you!" My brother Israel is not moved by her tears.
"Better go and attend to your things in the kitchen
and bring me another piece of meat," he says, pushing
his plate into her hands. "And don't forget," he calls
after her, "change my kasha and honey, it's cold
On weekdays each of us eats separately. Sitting
alone at table, one does not know what to do with
oneself. For whole days my brothers go about idly.
But each of them wants to show the maids that he too
is important, just as busy as father and mother, and
that like them he has no time to lose while being
And It is true that mother has no time for eating.
She is in the shop from morning on. She waits till
father and all the help come back from dinner, and
when it becomes a little quieter in the shop, she
snatches a moment to run to the apartment and take
a bit of food.
It is only on an occasional happy day, a day with
out grief, that mother does not begrudge herself a
meal on time. Usually she comes back to the apart
ment late, care-ridden and toilworn. And then it is
better not to bother her.
She runs through the rear shop where the book
keeper sits. She does not even look at him seems to
feel ashamed that she goes to sit at table in the middle
of the day.
"Sasha, is there anything to eat?" she calls from a
distance. "Hurry, hurry, put everything on the table!
But do it quickly, I have no time!"
The harried maid quickly clears a corner of the
table for mother, puts bread, salt, and a spoon and a
fork before her. While mother washes and dries her
hands, she goads the maid: "My God, why does
everything take so long with you? Sasha, where have
you vanished to? Have the children had their dinner?
Has Bashke eaten anything?" She suddenly remem
About the boys, she is sure that they will not let
themselves be cheated by the cook. As for me, always
a pale little girl, and her youngest child moreover, she
always thinks that I have to be forcibly fed.
Everything is now on the table, and Sasha pushes
the dish of soup toward mother. "It's a pity, barinke,"
Sasha says with regret. "The meat will get cold by
the time you've finished your soup!"
Mother sits on the edge of the chair listening to the
distant voices coming from the shop. "You silly
woman," she chides, "don't make my head turn! My
brain is bursting without anything from you. Be
quiet for a moment, I can hear that someone has come
to the shop."
Now mother is ready to run away, and hurriedly
swallows the bite of food in her mouth.
"Baleboste, the balebos is asking for you!" says the
panting shop boy, running in.
Mother jumps up from her seat at once. The maid
looks at her sadly, and asks: "Shall I serve your food
in the shop, barinke?"
I am alone at the table. There is no one who could
report to mother that I don't eat. I say to the maid,
who keeps placing one dish after another on the table:
"Sasha, I don't want to eat!"
"Bashutke, God be with you! What are you say
ing? But it's so tasty! Don't you smell it? Just try it,
you'll see that it will make all your limbs melt! Bash-
inke, what's the matter with you? You're not sick,
God forbid? Just wait, I'll call Havah."
She knows that I am more afraid of Havah than of
her. In comes the cook, who always smells of onion,
"Why don't yon want to eat?" she assails me at
once. "Ah, please, don't make such a fuss! When will
you be sensible and eat like everyone else? You don't
eat, and that's why you're so pale, and then your
mother will again accuse me of not giving you enough
"All right, all right, I'll eat only stop bothering
me!" I bite off a piece of meat only to make her go
away. I cannot stand her smell of onion and dish
"O me! Lord of the Universe! Even a tiny child
turns against me!" Havah shrugs her shoulders, wipes
her perpetually teary eyes with her greasy apron, and
goes back to the kitchen.
I sit alone again. I swallow a bite, I look at the door
hoping that someone, no matter who, will come in.
And I count how many days remain before the Sab
bath. On the Sabbath all the empty chairs will move
toward the table, and father, mother, my brothers
will sit on them.
Suddenly the door opens and Abrashke flies in like
a wind. "You dumb cluck, why are you sitting here
like a sleeping devil? See, there's the ice cream ven
dor!" And he pushes me to the window.
We stand petrified. In the courtyard a tall goy is
walking about like a living white mountain. He looks
as if he were blanketed with snow. He wears a loose
white shirt. On his head, like another head, a high
tub sways, wrapped in white cloth. The goy's face
cannot be seen. It looks as though his own head were
enveloped in cold towels because it hurt him.
The goy strides with his long, strong legs, tram
pling on the snow. He takes a step. His black, shining
boots dance, and the tub on his head keeps time. Sud
denly he comes to a halt opposite our window. Proba
bly he has caught sight of us. And he cranes his neck
and crows like a cock before rain: "I-i-ice crea-eam!
Even the window begins to shake. Abrashke jumps
from the window to the door and back, and falls upon
me: "Why are you standing here? Go ask mother for
five kopeks! The goy refuses to give us any more
"Mother is busy, I'm afraid/'
"You idiot, go at least and order the glasses!"
He himself runs to the kitchen, charges the cook
from behind, and pushes her to the window to see for
herself that the ice cream man is there* "Havah"
and he keeps shaking her "you must give us five
kopeks. You see that the ice cream man has come."
"O me, Lord of the Universe! He is killing me, the
bandit!" And she pushes my brother away. "Are you
crazy, out of your mind? An ague, that's what I'll
give you! What do you mean, eating ice cream now,
you trefniak! You've just had dinner!"
"Eh, can you call that meat? I've forgotten it long
Havah acts as though she had been stang by a fly.
"What else?" she shouts. "The poor neglected chil
dren! It breaks one's heart to look at you! You're
starving to death with me! You stuff yourself with
three cutlets and"
"Oh, stop arguing with me! You probably will
keep it up till tomorrow! And meanwhile the ice
cream man will go away"
"A great dignitary he is, your ice cream man! A
curse on him! Leading Jewish children astray! Where
is the rebbe? It's just your luck that he isn't here, or
he'd give you a sound spanking, so that all the tref ice
would melt in you"
"I-i-i-ice crea-eam! I-i-ce crea-eam!" the goy keeps
on crying in the courtyard.
Abrashke squirms what can he contrive next?
"The goy's ice cream is not made with milk!" he
says. Then he tries to cajole the cook. "Havah, I'll
help you mix the dough for the bread, you won't
have to beg me! I will bring you the pickles, the
sauerkraut from the cellar"
"Thank you a lot! Why do you hang on to me like
a tick? Where shall I get the money?"
Abrashke feels that Havah's voice has softened.
"What?" he says, "You haven't five kopeks left from
marketing? Why are you so sparing with mother's
u So you think mother's money is trash? That it's to
be wasted on the goy? And how will I give my ac
counting at night?"
"I-i-ce crea-eam! I4-ce crea-eam!" The vendor's
voice comes into the kitchen through the window.
Havah is bewildered, as though she were besieged
from all sides. "Ai, what a brat! How can I get rid of
him? He takes all one's strength! Here, rascal!" She
grumbles while she rummages under her dress to draw
out the purse. "Eating suet," she snorts. "Ordinary
HUNTING FOR GHOMETZ
PASSOVER night is approaching, nearer and nearer.
Our apartment is all stir and bustle. The very air
"Have you scrubbed here? And over there, in that
corner? See to it that the shelves are wiped clean.
Here are Passover towels!" Havah goads everyone
she can lay her hands on. "And you, Sasha," she cries
to the gentile maid, "go to all the black years with
your chometz! Take it to the cellar, you can eat it
there with Ivan!"
Havah gathers the last of the chometz dishes, crams
them all into a dark closet. These are things she uses
all year round, and now she does not even want to
look at them, she almost kicks them away. Suddenly
she stops, shuddering: a bit of flour gleams from the
black tin pan in which she usually bakes cakes and
rolls. "Where is your father?" she says. "If he were to
come, he'd burn even this bit of flour."
And she stores the pan away in the closet, so that
it should no longer offend her eyes. She scratches her
hands in trying to remove bits of red radish that re-
fuse to get out of the scraper. "What a nuisance, this
chornetz! There's no way of getting rid of it. Chil
dren, didn't the rebbe tell you to turn out your pock
ets? What are you waiting for? Soon your father will
come to burn the chometz,"
Havah proceeds to turn out our pockets herself.
"Oi, don't tickle me!" one of us protests. "You'll
tear off my pockets with your hunting for bread
It is not easy to clean out one's pockets in one mo
ment. All year round they are stuffed with everything
that can be found in our house and in the street. So
now my brothers are watching they wonder whose
pockets will have the most scraps sticking in the
"Hush, father is coming!"
And the pockets are quickly turned in again.
Father has come to hunt for chometz. Havah's
heart sinks. Father's face is serious, as though some
thing had been lost in the house and he would have
to look for it.
His black hat casts a shadow on him. Someone
hands him a lighted candle. The little flame shines on
his pale face.
"Have you got a feather broom?" he says in a low
All the children follow him in silence. Everyone's
breath is audible. Father, with the candle and the
feather broom in one hand, and a wooden spoon in
the other, brushes all the window ledges, the corners,
the shelves, although they have just been scrubbed.
He rummages in the bookcase, searches among the
gemaras, searches as though someone were trying to
conceal something from him. Suddenly he comes
upon a cramb of chometz that despite the cleaning
has remained hidden in a corner, or that Havah has
put there by design, so that father should not have
to make too long a search. His eyes flash the flame of
the candle blazes up too as though he had found a
Next morning father gathers up all the crumbs he
has found, places them in a paper bag, and carries them
to the stove. The fire leaps on the bag. Father's eyes
light up with the fire that devours the scraps of
"Thank God," Havah says, sighing, "we'll have a
THE first to be drawn into the Passover turmoil
is Havah, our fat cook.
Since the day after Purim she has been going about
in a daze. The ordinary weekdays have died away for
her. She has only one thought in her head to have a
Distraught, in the early morning, she comes run
ning to the dining room. "Children, you've dawdled
enough!" she cries, "Finish your breakfast in a hurry,
and get out of here! The painters have come!"
"The painters, already? Do you know when it will
be Passover? Before Passover, even the Messiah may
come!" my brothers grumble.
"And the place has got to be painted for the Mes
siah!" the cook says, aping them. "Instead of chatter
ing, help me to move the cabinets."
"The cabinets! Only that? Just a little thing! It's
incredible what she can think up, that Havah! Who
can budge those cabinets?"
All together we heave against the clothespress. It
budges. Inside it, black long coats are mingled with
father's fur coat and mother's fox cape. The long
hairs of the fur sting and tickle the other garments.
We push the cabinet, it creaks and groans with each
shove; its feet scrape the floor and leave a white mark
"Oi, enough, stop!" one of my brothers cries out.
"You see, Havah, what you've done? One foot has
bent. How shall we be able to put the cabinet back
"O me, Lord of the Universe! What do you want
of me? After all, the wall has got to be papered!"
"Perhaps you want to go to the rebbe and consult
him as to whether we should not push away the
whole wall?" my brothers taunt her.
"I've been as much of a wiseacre as you for a long
time! Don't worry I've got more brains in my heel
than all of you together in your heads!" says Havah,
getting angry. "Go to the rebbe, of all things! The
question I should really ask him is how such heathen
brats happen to be born into a Jewish family!"
"There she goes Havah is angry already! Let's go! "
The brothers pull each other by the sleeve. "Come
on, let's go to see how they're baking matzah in
Suddenly Havah turns to the open door and calls
out: "Reb Yidl, Reb Nahman, come in! You'll begin
with the little room next to the dining room."
As though out of a mist two white shadows emerge;
apparently they have just been waiting for Havah's
call Two painters in white from top to toe. Every
thing about them their shoes, hair, cheeks, and eye
browsis spattered with white flecks as if with snow-
flakes. One has a ladder slung over his back, and in his
hand he holds a bucket full of paint. The other can
hardly manage with both his hands to hold a pack of
long rolls of wallpaper that look like bound-up scrolls.
The painters, as soon as they have come through
the doorway, tramp through the rooms. We push
away tables and chairs, clear a path for them a com
pany of soldiers might be marching in with them.
Soon they are in possession of the whole apartment.
One climbs up the ladder and scrapes the cornices,
the other clambers up on the table and scrubs the
ceiling with a coarse brush. Bits of plaster fall on his
"Little girl, want to taste some lime?" the younger
painter asks, smiling down at me from his ladder.
His short little beard, stippled with lime, seems
pasted to his white lips. The painters make a jolly
time of it. Now one, now the other, bursts out laugh
ing. They sing, whistle, stir the buckets, dip in the
brushes; paint drips and spatters.
Suddenly one of them begins to coat the ceiling,
back and forth. The other joins him, and both peck
at the ceiling with their brushes as birds would with
The painters attack the walls as though trying to
tear them down. The old wallpaper drops with a
rustle, dragging dried pieces of plaster after it. The
peeled walls stand naked, scratched up and ugly.
There is paint around my feet. The torn paper is scat
tered on the floor, and the painted flowers on it get
The painters jump over the debris. They cut and
paste new lengths of wallpaper with new little flow
ers. The paper crumples up, blisters, refuses to stick
to the wall. Then the painters give it a slap with a wet
cloth, and the swollen paper spreads up to the ceiling.
The little room, freshly painted and papered, shines
as though decorated to welcome a bridal couple. But
for Havah it is still not kosher enough. She covers the
walls with white sheets, as if she were hanging talesim
on them. Even on the floor she spreads a sheet. Now,
it seems to me, one could bring the holy ark in there.
The first thing to be brought in are baskets
of matzah two taU, broad baskets, wrapped in sheets.
It seems to me that each matzah is wrapped in a sheet.
Havah, all in a dither, runs ahead, showing the way.
"Slowly stop here," she warns. "Here are a few
stairs. Lower the baskets gently, slowly, so that the
matzah will not break God forbid."
She runs around the baskets, touches them, whis
pers as though saying a blessing: "Well, with the
matzah a bit of Passover has already come into the
A third man, with a long, handsome beard, brings
in a small basket of matzah shemurah for father. He
holds the basket in both arms, in the manner in which
he would carry a Torah.
The man does not say a word. He notices a ceiling
hook for a chandelier, and hangs the basket on it, so
that no one should be able to breathe with a chometz
breath on the special matzah. The basket is so com
pletely swathed in white wrappings that the woven
straw cannot be seen from any side.
From now on no one is allowed to enter the little
room. Only Havah, in her felt slippers, may fuss
around in there. She becomes the ruler of the little
room and all the members of the family submit with
out a word.
When Havah goes through the apartment in a
white apron and with a white kerchief on her head,
it is known that she is going to the little room. Her
face is tense, as though she were going about some
We sneak up to the door, but she locks herself in.
The latch clicks shut before our noses. We sit down on
the little flight of steps leading to the room and hear a
pounding of the wooden pestle.
"Havah!" we beg her through the keyhole. "Let us
in! We'll help you pound matzah!"
The pestle pounds and pounds as if she were
pounding on our heads. "Havah, we swear to you,
our hands are clean. We have just washed!"
The pestle pounds more rapidly. Perhaps she does
not hear HS. So we bang on the door latch at every
thump of the pestle.
"Havah, why don't you let us also pound a little
with the pestle?"
Suddenly the door flies open. We tumble back,
almost rolling down the steps. In the doorway, like a
storm cloud, looms the angry cook. She is unrecog
nizable. She is covered with flour; she could actually
just have come out of a mill.
"Why do you bother me, all of you? Let me alone,
you brats! What do you want to pollute even my
Passover, you good-for-nothings?" She is panting and
her breath seems white with flour. "Of all thingsto
let you in to pound matzah with chometz hands! Are
you too sick to wait till the holiday? Out of here!"
She bellows at us and flour blows out of her nostrils.
"Don't you dare to come near the baskets!"
She has vented her anger and returns to the little
room. The latch snaps to with a bang. Again we press
up to the door, put our ears to the keyhole. Now we
hear something like the splash of a gentle waterfall
dragging a mountain of sand after it.
"Havah, let us sift the matzah flour a little. Havah!"
The door flies open and she sticks out her head.
"Will you stop or not? Will you let go of the door?"
A big sieve full of scraps of unground matzah rocks
against her stomach. The flour drops from the sieve
in a thin rain. It is as though the flour were coming
out of Havah. One of my brothers turns over the
"Oi, 7011 rascal!' 5 Havah flares up. "May your
hands dry up! You Tatar soul!"
She raises her hand, but stops, recalling that she
is holding a Passover sieve with it. "Oi, my wretched
years!" She begins to sob. "Lord of the Universe,
even without this I don't know how to get on with all
my work! Why are you pestering me? Who has
asked you to come here?"
"But we want to help you."
"Never mind what you want! What sort of help
would you be? And what makes you all of a sudden
so attached to me? Bosom friends! Let's see which of
us will get his way. Let anyone try to come near to
this room, and I'll"
An odd woman! Cursing all the time. When Havah
gets excited it is better not to try to stop her. She
might give one a couple of blows of such sort that
and she might tell the rebbe, too. She knows that
both the rebbe and father will side with her Passover
must be kosher. So we let her alone.
She cools off and trudges back to the kitchen. At
every step she leaves behind a white print of flour,
like the tracks of an animal on snow. Soon we hear
her coming back. Bending under the load, she carries
on her back a keg full of beets. The keg sways, the beet
liquor splashes, red drops trickle down on her path.
Havah toils hard. Her thick feet are swollen. Who
can help her? In her eyes everyone is tref . No one is
allowed to touch anything.
"Havah, let us at least taste some beet liquor! It
will be easier for you to carry it." We run after her.
She shakes her head. Her face turns from red to
black. Her eyes are like sacks full of wet ashes. One
squeeze, and ready tears will drop out of them. "Oi!"
She cannot restrain herself; she sighs involuntarily.
"Oi, my feet, they're killing me!"
Before she reaches the little room, Havah suddenly
drops the keg. She stands there in a daze, making signs
with her hands to show us that we must not come
near the keg.
"Go, say you're sorry!"
"No, you go first, you'll do it better." My broth
ers urge each other.
Havah wrings her hands. "Who knows what state
your hands are in," she wails. "Probably full of
"Who? What? It's a long time since we have had
anything to eat!"
And the keg is snatched from the floor. Havah
sobs. If she could, she would make us kosher on the
spot. "My God," she splutters, "those children! All
they think of is to be feeding, to gobble up food! "
Then the little Passover room is filled with delight
ful goodies; it excites us and allures us.
Why should Havah alone taste all the good things
there? We begrudge her this. But Havah, like a cat,
is on the alert are we not trying to get in there? She
fears to leave the little room alone. Perhaps she even
sleeps there at night!
When we children gather in a little circle and
whisper among ourselves, Havah at once looms up
near us. "What are you doing here?" she asks. "What
are you up to?"
"Nothing, we're just standing."
"Why are you standing in one place? You're surely
going to go somewhere?"
"Not anywhere! Where should we be going?"
She mutters something, grumbling, and goes to see
what is happening in the little room. Every day some
thing is carried in there, now Passover sugar, now salt,
or nuts, or prunes, or almonds. Linen sacks stand in
all its corners. Havah seems to take pleasure in gather
ing together all these good things just to spite us and
A strange woman! On the very first day of Pass
over she always stuff s us so much that we hold our
bellies. But now she torments our souls. And every
day it is the same story.
Abrashke hangs around the door, goes up to it,
runs away again. "Bashke," he reports, "I think they've
brought raisins today!"
"No, I can smell prunes!"
Havah catches us red-handed. "What are you
sniffing here for?" she asks.
"Can't we even sniff?"
"No, go wipe your noses, somewhere in a corner.
What good is it to leave you here? You'll surely spare
me the trouble of cooking something for the holi
Now she starts on the task of purifying the pots
and pans. Every day one or another of the copper
pots vanishes from the kitchen.
All year long, all the copper pans and skillets stand
arrayed on the upper shelf like generals on parade;
they shine and glisten and cast fiery glances down
ward. Before Passover they have become tarnished,
and Havah takes them down from the shelves by their
black, smoked-up handles and drags them into a cor
ner. Even the old Sabbath jug and the worn-out
samovar into which not even a drop of water is put
any longer she has these made kosher in the same
way as the samovar that seethes and boils days on end.
Perhaps a speck of chometz will spatter out of them?
The vessels are made kosher by being lined inside
with a new skin. Havah carries them to the little
room, wraps each of them separately in a sheet. All
these sheets seem to blow a little trembling breeze
through the rest of the apartment.
"Bashinke, you're a big girl now, here is the key,
go look over the dish closet," mother says.
"I think that last year a few wineglasses were
broken." Havah now orders us around outside the
A special Passover closet is built into a wall in the
dining room. Throughout the year the closet is
locked. And one forgets that it is actually a closet. I
open its doors. There is a whiff of an old odor. The
locked-up plates, goblets, glasses awaken.
"What is missing, a wineglass, a cup?"
I climb up on a chair, stick my head into all the
three compartments. I count the cups- will there be
enough of them for everyone? I figure it out, as
though we were already sitting at table, each in his
The dish closet sparkles. On all sides it holds glass
and china, smooth, etched with gold. There is a shelf
with cups. I am dazzled by all the glasses. Thick ones,
thin ones, tall ones, small onesthey look at one an
other, reflecting each other like mirrors.
At one side there are red and blue Bohemian gob
lets; they stand as though in deep thought, in a world
of their own. The smell of last year's wine has not yet
evaporated from them.
Taller by a head than all of them, there stands, like
an emperor, the cup of Elijah the Prophet. I touch it
hesitantly. Every Passover I tremble lest it should
burst with all the wine that is poured into it. Even
when it is empty it sparkles with red lights like drops
of wine. I fancy that I am sitting on a tree on which
red and blue exotic birds are singing, and pecking with
their beaks. The broad red bottles add more flame.
Inside their red glass even plain water will turn red
What will happen when all the bottles and cups are
put on the seder table, full of wine? The white table
cloth will light up. It will glow like a conflagration.
My weary eyes pass to another shelf. There stands
a broad soup tureen with red flowers painted on it.
The tureen is heavy; it is impossible to lift it. Now I
understand why Havah's hands break under the load
when she brings to mother the tureen full of soup
with plump dumplings bobbing in it like children's
Next to the tureen are the plates, a whole shopful
of plates! I pick out the small ones that are used as
guest plates. To offer the refreshments is my task. I
must plan on which plates I shall put preserves, on
which the cookies, and on which the almonds. In the
center of each plate there is a painted apple or pear.
They strike my eyes, smell like real fruit. They con
fuse my calculations.
Suddenly I notice that at one side there stands, as
if embarrassed, a milk pitcher with a broken-off
handle. I look around there is no other pitcher. If I
go to the shop and tell mother that we must buy a
new pitcher, she will reprimand me: "Why are you
making my head spin with your pitcher? Here we
toil like horses to earn a penny, and you in the house
keep stealing and breaking things!"
Perhaps it is better not to tell mother. Where shall
I get a blue pitcher like that to go with the blue sugar
When I go into the china shop I get lost there.
The shop tinkles with all the glassware on its
shelves. I look at myself in all the glasses. In one I see
half of my face; here my nose is stretched out, there
it is flattened. Beside me is the owner, a tall, stout
man. Through his black coat one cannot see the glass
ware. He moves lightly among his glasses, touches
them with his eyes. From time to time he clicks his
finger against a little glass. Does he do this to make
sure that his merchandise is whole, or just to admire
it, to show it off to me?
The little glass he touches gives off a tinkling note,
like a voice on the air. The tinkle runs through the
whole shop, and the vessels begin to vibrate. The
proprietor removes his finger. The tinkle hides some
where in a corner and is silenced. Only the steps of
both of us can be heard.
I forget what I have come to buy. Havah has asked
me to bring her something for the kitchen.
"Look," the shopkeeper whispers in my ear. "See
the new liqueur glasses? They've just arrived. Pretty,
aren't they?" He throws this in incidentally, and my
head spins even more than before.
The delicate little glasses beckon to me, like tender
flowers. One puff of wind could make them slide
down from the shelf. They tease me with their sharp
edges. I want to put them to my cheeks, my mouth.
Havah's voice is humming in my ears: "Liqueur
glasses again? What for, for whom? There isn't even
room to store them away. But for me you've forgot
ten to buy a couple of plain dishes. Why do we need
such a liqueur glass?" And Havah raises it to the light.
"Look, it will melt in water! How many such glasses
have just crushed in my hands between the coarse
"But they're so pretty! I did not have the heart to
leave them in the shop."
Let them scold me! These won't be the only super
fluous things in our house!
FROM early morning on I study the mah-nishtanah.
Since I am the youngest child, it is I who must
ask father the four questions*
"Ai! Every year you make the same mistakes!"
one of my brothers scolds me.
"And why are there the same questions every
It is an ordeal for him to teach me to recite the
four questions. In my head not four but forty ques
tions are thronging but who would try to ask ques
tions of father! I am chided all year round: "You
clumsy fool, why do you keep asking questions all
But father is not here, so I can ask him: "Father,
why do you become an emperor all of a sudden for
the seder? Why is it that as soon as the first day of
the half-holidays comes, you're no longer king, and
our whole kingdom is gone? Father, why doesn't
Elijah the Prophet sit beside you during the seder?
He surely could be an emperor, for his cup is the
largest, the most beautiful. Father, why does his cup
remain untouched in the middle of the table? Why
doesn't he come at least for the recital of the plagues?
Why doesn't he eat with us, and why do we open
the door to call him only after supper? Father, why
does he promise us each year, 'Next year in Jerusalem,'
while he himself hides in the dark of night? Why,
"Why are you turning in circles, you sleepy
head?" my brother berates me. "Here is your line,
repeat it after me."
Once again, from the beginning of the page to the
end, I repeat the four questions aloud.
Our apartment is in a turmoil. And I walk around
slowly, as though I were carrying a pitcher full of
questions on my head. I whisper them in a low voice.
I am afraid that they may splash out from my
The day goes by. There are odors of Passover
foods, coming in, going out. Havah flies like a wind
from the kitchen to the dining room and back. Every
minute she stops. She keeps counting on her fingers.
"Charoset " and she bends one finger. "Stuffed
necks" and she bends another finger. "The eggs are
boiled. What else? Where Is Sasha?" she cries out
suddenly. "Just when she is needed, she isn't here.
Seder or no seder it's all the same to her. Bashinke,
go and get her. She has probably gone to the cellar
with Ivan. Their supper is ready." And Havah spits
to one side, as though it made her sick to her stomach
just to think of their chometz.
I run out and do not recognize our cellar. Its black
walls shine. Sasha has emptied it so completely that
it has become big and spacious. There is no rubbish.
It no longer smells of kerosene, or of the mold of
sauerkraut and pickles. The barrels are stored behind
the wood. In the middle of the cellar a bit of a dining
room has been cleared for the week of Passover.
Here Sasha sits on a block of wood; she sits like a
baleboste, and beside her, on another block, sits Ivan
the janitor. A little tin lamp shines above their heads.
It stands out a little from the wall; the wall is wet,
but the chimney is so highly polished that the flame
is fresh and cheerful. It bends sidewise, flickers on
Sasha's white dress trailing on the bare ground. Her
table is full of food. She stuffs her cheeks and does
not stop laughing. Ivan, black-bearded his sheepskin
makes him look like a bear keeps wiping his wet
"Ah, Bashutke, do you want a bite of chometz?"
And he laughs coarsely.
"Sasha!" And I turn my back to him. "Havah is
calling you! Everyone has come, and the seder will
I pull her by the sleeve; she ought not to be in the
cellar alone with the drunken Ivan. She picks up her
skirts, takes them in her hand, splashes a last laugh in
Ivan's face, and runs out of the cellar along with me.
"Is it really true, Bashutke, that everyone Is there?
Hi-hi-hi! Come quicker!" The stairs bend under
Upstairs in the dining room the holiday is in full
swing. The table stretches from one wall to the other
a white seder table in the silent light of red cups. A
gleaming tablecloth stabs one's eyes. Candelabras
shine. Tall white candles, still unlighted, quiver in
the air. Even the ceiling shines, reflecting the polished
chains of the chandelier. Each mound of matzah
shemurah is wrapped in a napkin that looks like a f our-
tasseled talis-koton. Big white-covered pillows stick up
in the chairs with embarrassment, puff at the matzah.
The solemn bindings of the haggadahs gleam with
their golden letters.
First mother comes in wearing her holiday dress.
Her face shines. With her hair fluffed up she looks
taller. Her dress is wide, long, trimmed with lace,
buttons, ribbons; it trails on the floor, swishes, fills
the whole room with its rustle. She goes to the
candles, lights them, encircles them broadly with her
two hands, as though blessing the whole table to
gether with the candles.
It is now warm and light, as though not only
mother's seven candles were lighted, but hundreds of
candles all at once. Their warm fire caresses the cold
gleam of the tablecloth, even as they themselves have
just been caressed by mother's warm hands.
In the homes of the neighbors in our courtyard the
candies have also been lighted. The lights of ail the
people's candles cross one another. They seem to
splash glowing gold. They are reflected in the win
dows, illumine the table; they play on the em
broidered flowers of the tablecloth, on the bottles of
wine that stand waiting. They redden the red cups.
Flame after flame licks the white table. It is not
yet quite ready. It is being set. No one questions
whether the table can bear up under ail the things
that are on it.
"Havah, have you peeled the eggs? Where is the
salted water?" Mother bustles around the table; she
wants to survey its whole length with her eyes, to
see whether anything is lacking. "Hand me another
pillow. I've quite forgotten that there will be an
other guest. Put on a new pillow case."
A couple of new pillows are spread. The chairs,
like pregnant women, tilt their bellies upward.
"Mother, who is coming? How many of us will
there be for the seder?"
"Ah," she says, waving her hand, "who would
count them? After all, it's a holiday!" And then
"Quiet, they're coming from shul."
The murmur of an unfamiliar voice is heard. A
guest comes in. "Gut yom-tov! How are you?" he
says to mother. "Are these your boys? Are they
And each has his cheeks pinched.
The first comer is a distant relative of father's, a
peddler in neighboring little towns. He knows that
to my father a relative is a sacred guest. So he has
invited himself to our seder and behaves as though he
were in his own home. He hums a tune, walks around,
blows his nose loudly, moralizes, gives advice. To
every new guest who comes he is the first to offer
a broad welcome.
Now there is a noisy crowd, all waiting for father.
To while away the time they tell each other stories,
exchange jokes. "What are you studying now,
Bashinke? Do you know Russian well?" someone
"Have you good marks?" my brother and my
sister who have come from afar suddenly question
I look at them as though they too were strangers.
I do not see them the whole year round. The brother
is studying abroad. The sister lives in another city.
This year she has brought her two little children.
They crawl over everyone's knees, and especially if
someone has long legs they beg him to give them
All are merry. Only one old bachelor's eyes are
sad, pensive. He looks at the boys at play. He recalls
that he too once had a father and mother, a home of
his own. And he moves over into a corner, like a
"Gut yoni-tov!" Three little soldiers, all dressed
up for Passover, enter and stand in a row. The hub
bub in the room has lured them in.
"Quiet, father is coming!"
The turmoil ends abruptly.
I do not recognize father at once. A new father!
In the doorway stands a white king, wrapped in white
from top to toe. He is lost in his broad white silken
cloak. The white silk shimmers, swells in folds. They
are held up by the thick belt. The sleeves hang down
like wings, long and wide, covering the hands and
the fingers. A white silken skullcap glistens on his
white hair. The whiteness makes him look broader
and stouter. There is a special radiance in his face.
A white fragrance comes from him. If father should
wave his arm, his sleeves would lift him like wings.
I look into his face. After all, he is an emperor today.
"Gut yom-tov!" father says.
"Gut yom-tov! " we all answer.
The seder begins.
Father occupies the head of the table by himself.
Against his two fluff ed-up pillows he really sits like
an emperor on a throne. Following after him, the
whole company pushes to the table. They jostle one
another, shove the chairs, crowd to the table. Others,
on their big pillows, sit as though raised on high,
Father is the first to remove the napkin from his seder
setting, and casts a sharp glance over the things ar
ranged before him. Mother's eyes stop has anything
been forgotten? Under his yellow matzah shemurah,
sticking out, like bits of moss from an old roof,
are branches of spice, a little mound of maror, a
roasted stuffed neck, a hardboiled egg. The other
seder settings, arranged like father's, are uncovered too.
"Arke! You'll give me all of your bitter herbs,
won't you?" Abrashke suddenly cries across the table
to his elder brother.
"Ah, you lubber, you're interested in only one
thing! Holiday or no holiday, all that's on your mind
"And you why are you barking like a dog on a
holiday? After all, it's bitter herbs I'm asking for!"
"You're ready to stuff yourself even with bitter
horseradish! Do you think I don't know you! Ha-
"Quiet!" father chides them. "What kind of up
roar is this? Pour wine into the cups! Serve them to
Bottles of wine pass from hand to hand. The guests
snatch them in turn from each other. The wine bub
bles, splashes on the tablecloth.
"It's good wine, indeed!" Someone has had time
to swallow a drop. "May I have luck as good as the
wine is sweet!"
"Ah, ah!" says another. "Elijah the Prophet's cup!"
Father nods. Mother throws in: "Take wine from
this bottle! It is a better one!"
A bottle is tipped; Elijah the Prophet's tall red cup,
which a minute ago was standing silent, pensive, is
filled to the brim.
The wine begins to foam. I am dizzy from the
strong wine smell that comes from the cups. Sud
denly it is as though a wind were blowing from the
opened haggadahs, stirred up by the fluttering of
pages. All heads are bent over the books. The first
benedictions are pronounced.
I sit in my accustomed place, squeezed in between
father and mother. Because of father's pillow, my
corner is more cramped than usual. I feel hot and
choked. My head is heavy from the wine. The pil
lows lure me, I want to put my head on their soft
down. But I know that soon, after a few phrases,
father will bend over toward me, as though the four
questions were being addressed not by me to him,
but by him to me. Now he is beckoning to me:
"Come, the questions!"
Suddenly there is silence. Everyone looks at me.
I hide my face in the haggadah. My head whirls to
gether with the letters. I move my finger on the page,
I want to straighten out the lines. I swallow my
breath, I am startled by niy own voice: "Where
Father prompts me in a low voice. It seems to me
that at the other end of the table they are choking
with laughter. I get snarled up even more. I crawl
from one line to the next, I mix up my questions. Yet
I have memorized them so well, and I had so many
things to ask! I have no sooner spoken the last word
than a shout rises. Relieved, they have all turned to
The company is like something that has started off
on wheels. Each recites for himself, tries to go faster
than another. One tries to catch up with the other, to
drown his neighbor's voice, to push him with his own
The voices echo back from the windows, clamber
up the walls, awaken the portrait of the old Rabbi
Shneurson that has hung in our house for years. The
rabbi looks down with his green eyes and listens to
each voice as if he were testing everyone. On the
other wall, the portrait of the aged Rabbi Mendele
cannot remain quiet either. Pensive, wrapped in a
white cloak, and with his long white beard, he comes
down from the frame as though he had been called to
the reading. The bare walls prick up their ears, the
ceiling comes down, listening to the haggadah; it has
to carry each word upward.
Page after page, the words pour out like sand in the
desert. I am tired from looking at everyone. Where
My brothers race ahead as if they were in harness.
"You lout, what are you reciting?" Suddenly a
non-Hebrew word resounds. "You've skipped sev
eral pages!" This is Mendl chiding Abrashke.
Whom is he going to cheat? And why all the haste?
Little mounds of letters and lines stand up, run up and
down as though on stairs. I lose my way in my hag-
gadah. I touch its yellowed pages. At one place I find
a wine stain, at another a piece of last year's matzah.
Then suddenly I come to a page with a picture repre
senting a seder table, with emaciated faces around it.
I feel an ache in my heart. Here they are, our
grandfathers, our dearest grandmothers. How weary,
how dried up they are! I stroke them and turn page
after page. I look for them everywhere. The piece of
matzah crumbles over my haggadah. It is as though
the sand of the land of Egypt were grating under my
feet. I murmur: "We were slaves"
The crowded pages begin to choke me. In my ears
the wind of the desert blows. The pale shadows of the
colored pictures come closer to me, breathing into my
mouth. I no sooner touch them with a word than they
pour out their hearts, their sufferings, relate how they
trudged in exile in the desert, tarried, and trudged on
again. Days, nights, years, without water, without
bread. My soul is drawn into their cycle as though by
a spinning wheel. I hear their steps. They sweat,
tramp, with stooped backs.
My own shoulders are heavy; I too am dragging
myself over the deep sand. My mouth is parched. I
find it hard to pronounce the words. They paste my
lips shutthey feel like lumps of clay. I whisper, bend
over, try to get into the haggadah, join the long trek,
walk with all of them, say a word to them, help them
to carry something
Suddenly it occurs to me to wonder with a start:
Were there children with them? They must have
Where are we? It seems to me that all have lost
their way. I shall never catch up with them! What
passage is father reading? I ought to listen to him. His
voice is calm. Each word falls on the table like a
measured step. He walks on a smooth road. I should
like to walk in step with him. Thank God, he has
stopped for a minute to catch his breath.
"Now, the plagues!" He makes a sign with his
hand beckoning that something be given to him into
which to pour the wine for enumerating the plagues.
"Water made blood. Frogs"
Father sounds like a bell. Each plague is pushed
away, a long drop of wine is poured over it. It is as
though father wanted to push each trouble as far
away as possible. He has poured out his whole cup*
Mother takes the little jug and slowly performs the
same rite. She is embarrassed lest she name the plagues
too loudly, she fears to spatter the table. Each holds
his cup in his hand, as though ready to give battle.
Each grasps the jug, pours wine into it from the cup;
they seem to be spitting into the enemy's face. Every
one aims at the middle of the jug, trying to hurl his
curse straight to the heart. The plagues fall like bul
lets to the bottom of the jug. The jug comes to me
last. So many plagues are bubbling in it! They have
become as thick as spittle.
"Water made blood. Frogs. Lice. Murrain. Here,
here, take it"it is as though I were hurling stones. I
pour the wine, I splash it. I cannot stop my hand. The
clay jug grows into a clay head of the evil Pharaoh.
I would gladly pour out all the plagues on him at
once, break my cup against him, cover him with the
blood of red wine.
"Locusts. Darkness that's for my grandfathers and
grandmothers you persecuted. Firstborn slain that's
for the tortured babies"! am terrified by the curses,
by the red stains on the tablecloth, and hurry to pour
out all my wine.
ELIJAH THE PROPHET
EXHAUSTED from eating, from the haggadah read
ing, we chew our morsels of hard afikoimen.
Only father conducts himself as befits an emperor.
Reclining on his pillows, he chews the afikoimen with
closed eyes, as though he were thinking: "Whither
will He lead us now?"
Suddenly he opens his eyes and casts a glance at
mother. She moves her chair from the table, opens her
haggadah, takes a half -burned candle from the can
delabra, and turns to me: "Come, Bashinke, and take
your haggadah with you."
I jump up as if stung. My heart is oppressed with
awe and with exultation, because only I accompany
mother to go to meet Elijah the Prophet and open the
door for him.
Each with an open haggadah in her hand mother
holds the burning candle too we go quietly out of the
dining room. The men remain sitting at the table. No
one budges. Each one looks at us, escorts us with his
eyes, as though they were all blessing us, their envoys.
We walk quickly through the dark parlor in order
not to be late, God forbid. That would be the su
preme mischance that Elijah the Prophet shonld pass
at our house and find the door closed. The little flame,
which seems to sweat from our hurry, hardly lights
the way for us. The candle drips tears perhaps it is
afraid of the surrounding darkness. We come to the
little entrance hall My heart pounds; it seems to leave
my body, to soar up to the sky and drop from terror
to the dark floor.
"Take care, cover the candle!" mother says to me
hurriedly and pushes open the door to the street. The
black night rushes in, like a wind, blows into my face
and my skirts, almost extinguishing the candle, and
"Now," I think, "Elijah the Prophet is quite close.
He is probably coming right now. The air is flutter
ing with the motion of his flying carriage, he is wav
ing his wings, his spirited horses are catching up with
I am afraid to look out from the doorway, lest some
thing should catch on my clothes. From underfoot
shadows run forward. I see only a patch of sky. It
gleams like black velvet. It makes the street black. In
the black sky, a little star splashes like a fish in water
and spatters light. Suddenly it looks in at the door. It
has stopped right over our heads.
Mother's eyes are lowered. She does not see any
thing. And what if the little star should fly in at the
door, and Elijah or even the Messiah himself, with
one leap, should appear behind us?
I am on edge, I listen. Everywhere there is silence.
Silence hangs from the sky, hangs over the street,
over the houses. Not a step is to be heard. The lan
terns burn each with a thin little flame.
In the house across the way, through the windows,
there wanders a reflection of a burning candle. Is
there a door open now in every house? Is there in
every doorway a mother with a little girl holding a
candle in her hand?
Suddenly there is a noise behind our backs: chairs
are being pushed from their places. Perhaps the whole
table has fallen apart. It is the men. Hearing us open
the door, they have all risen from their seats and are
reading the haggadah in voices so loud that they seem
to be trying to rouse the night itself.
We stand there feeling buried under their voices. I
move very close to mother, I want to cling to her
skirts, so that when the black night drags us away we
shall at least be together.
The little candle, wide awake, bends, sways to all
sides. I put a hand around it, screen it from the wind,
so that it should not go out, so that we should not,
God forbid, remain in darkness facing the open black
hole of the doorway.
Mother quietly recites from the haggadah; perhaps,
she feels, the silent night will listen more attentively
to her quiet prayers. Her lips are bajrely moving, her
face is wrinkled up, her spectacles slide down from
her nose. The candle goes out. It seems to me that we
are standing here forgotten.
I place my head under the haggadah, under moth
er's hands with her ardent blessings falling on me, I
shall not be afraid any longer.
"Elijah the Prophet/' I pray, "have mercy on us!
Come down quickly! It is cold, dark. Come to our
house! Everyone is waiting for you. And you'll be
warmer too. Do you hear how my father is praying?
He never cries, and today he is praying so loudly.
Come then, Elijah the Prophet, come!"
A streak of light passes across the doorway, cuts
through the air. I want to raise my head, to see what
mother is doing, what is going on in heaven. My eyes
are suffused with darkness, there is no way of opening
them. I feel that I cannot stand the light; it makes
my eyes blink.
"Next year in Jerusalem!" A last cry comes from
the dining room.
Again the chairs have been pushed up to the table,
and there is silence.
"Mother, has Elijah already gone into our house?"
"Next year in Jerusalem!" She throws the words
into the open doorway as though in answer.
I look out into the street. The wind has subsided.
The sky is studded with stars, big ones, little ones,
come from all the ends of the world. They hang like
lighted candles with their heads down. Their rays of
light crisscross, one enhances the other, and all of
them together sway like a canopy under which soon
the white moon will come like a bride in ail her glory.
Having closed her haggadah, mother makes a sign
with her hands, stroking the airshe might be bring
ing something down from heaven. Perhaps? Perhaps?
She does not want to go away from the open door.
She strokes the air for the last time it is like a kiss
and closes the door.
We go back silently. The cool night blows on our
backs, taking us by our shoulders with its hands of air.
In the dining room it is light and warm. All of
them are sitting with lowered eyes, humming the
haggadah passage. No one gives us even a glance.
Mother silently sits down. The humming air envelops
me, surrounds me with the old haggadah pages.
I turn my head back and forth has Elijah the
Prophet been here? The fluttering of my heart flick
ASHA," says mother to our gentile maid, "here,
give this cup to Ivan."
We hear from a distance the thick voice of our
watchman, who is supposed to protect us from thieves
"Will Ivan drink the whole cup of wine?" I think
to myself with fear.
"Fill the cups," father calls out.
We resume reading the haggadah. A voice rises and
dies out, as though falling into a well One reader
hums quietly through his nose, some others hurry;
they probably want to eat.
Father rises from his seat first. He goes to wash his
hands. The children mix up all the haggadahs. There
is a jostling at the washstand; the jug, the wet towel
are torn from one's hands. There is once more a rush
to the table. They catch the pieces of matzah that
father distributes for the blessing; the hard pieces
jump over the table until they are stopped by the
hands that snatch them up.
"Here, Bashke you like maror?" And father gives
me a second portion of it.
I spread it thickly between two pieces of matzah
and chew the bitter tidbit. Egg yolks cramble
under mother's fork and yellow the salted water.
Everyone sips his spoonful of the mixture with wrin
Meanwhile I forget to watch where father hides
the afikoimen. His pillow is full of down like a stuffed
belly how can I look for it? Now the fish is being
served. Mother's hand is stretched over the table.
Everyone holds up his plate. Then the knedlach come;
they are easily swallowed with the yellow soup.
"Who has a dumpling to spare? Give it to me, to
me!" the children beg one another.
"Hurry up with the meal. Otherwise it will be late
when it comes to the afikoimen," father urges us.
He is resting from eating. Sated and tired, we are
longing to go to sleep. We look at father. For some
reason he squirms in his chair. He turns over his
pillows, looking for the afikoimen.
"Ah, you brats, you did manage to steal it!" And
I sit like one cheated. I did not see either where he
hid it or who stole it. Annoyed, I look at one, then at
"Aha, I have stolen it despite everything!"
Abrashke cries out. He holds high the afikoimen. His
"Fine, fine, now let's hear what you want for it!"
"Oh, I won't give it up unless, unless"
Here Abrashke in his eagerness begins to think up
some very great gift. I look at him, frightened, almost
glad that I have not stolen the afikoimen. For I would
only have asked for some little thing. Such audacity
in the middle of the year no one would open his
mouth to ask for even a trifle. But father, like a real
emperor, does not even think of bargaining.
"Well, that's too bad! But you're not a fool You'll
get what you want. But now hurry up and give me
the afikoimen. It's getting late."
Merrily we bite into our pieces of hard afikoimen.
I SPEND almost all summer in the village. Hosts of
flies hum. Through the branches the sun comes in
brilliant little circles. There is no way of catching
them, the little moons. They jump out of one's hands,
from under one's feet, they do not let themselves be
trampled on. Here in the village I forget the city. It
seems to me that I myself am a blade of grass, a plant.
I walk around barefooted. I begin to smell of earth,
of rain water. I lie like a red berry at the edge of the
field. Blue little flowers, like blue bonnets, lure me,
wink at one another among the full ears of corn.
I go into the woods, I clamber over the tangled
roots of the trees that have been felled. I look for
blackberries and I gather them in a little basket. I look
at my bare feet. They grow longer, thicker. I stuff
myself with sun and air. I do not notice how days and
nights run by, how the sun is running away some
where, moving ever farther off and sinking deeper,
and every evening casts a longer shadow on the earth.
"Bashke, come back, tomorrow is Tishah b'Av"
thus mother sends me word from the city.
I am glad. It's a long time that I have been away
"Oh, how you have grown!" Sasha will cry out.
Mother, concealing her joy, will just glance at me
so that no evil eye should strike me, God forbid.
Gaily I come to our house and stop in the doorway.
Has someone died? Why is everyone weeping?
Why has mother told me to come home? I have fallen
from a bright sky into a dark pit.
I stand and look at mother, who sits with lowered
head, reading a supplication. She weeps silently, does
not look at me. The long white tablecloth is stretched
like a corpse on the empty table. In the candelabras
the burned-out candles are melting. A couple of
books lie between them. Father stands at one side. His
white socks strike the eye. It makes my heart ache.
Dear God, why are they all so gray and black? It is
summer outside. The sun is shining. Gentile grown-
ups and children are running about, laughing. And
On low stools, as on stones, father and mother sit
mourning. They are like stones, petrified. The floor
is covered with sand and dust. Tears stream from
What sins have my parents committed that they
must pray to God in this way? What misfortune do
they lament? My brother Mendl says to me sorrow
fully: "We deserted our holy Temple. It was burned.
Our land was ruined. It is the ninth of Av."
Sadness comes upon me. The little red and blue
flowers are still blooming in rny eyes. One blow has
dispelled my warm summer.
Abrashke comes running in and pulls me by the
"What are you standing here for?" he says. "Come
to the courtyard, we'll throw pine cones at each
I feel quite indifferent. I allow myself to be dragged
to the yard. Abrashke has prepared a whole pile of
cones. If all these cones hit me, I shall be scratched to
bleeding. I hold my hands over my eyes. Abrashke is
now firing the cones as from a gun. They get into my
hair, stick to my dress. I find it hard to move.
"Abrashke, that's enough! Now let me throw a
little too!" I am almost in tears. I grab a handful of
cones. "Here, here! Now I'll hit you too!"
I tear the prickly cones from my dress and throw
them at Abrashke. I throw and throw. I do not see
what my brother is doing. And he? He calmly gath
ers them together and pastes them on himself like
buttons. He sticks a cone on his cap. His whole chest
is studded with cones.
From the open windows there comes a choked la
ment: "How doth the city sit solitary! Shall never
joy return to us?"
BEFORE sunset it is always gloomy in our house.
Everyone stays in the shop till late at night. All
of them have drunk their tea long ago. The cold
samovar stands as though its soul had flickered out.
The chandelier hums. Long shadows stretch from it
over the table. All day long the dining room has been
full of hubbub. Now it is like a dark abyss; I am afraid
of falling in.
I fancy that if I remain sitting like this, the chan
delier out of anger will pull me up to itself. And if I
cry out, who will hear me? Even the glasses still
standing on the table will not budge. I am afraid of
the lamp and the cold samovar. I am afraid to look at
its brass belly. Across it my pale face is spinning.
If only someone would come! Where are my
brothers? Where do they run about every evening?
In the streets there is wind, frost. But they come
home cheerful, with a booty of freshly gathered
"Abrashke, where have you been?" I ask.
"Not anywhere," he throws back.
"And what have you done, Abrashke?"
"Nothing!" And he laughs.
I sit at the table, prop my head on my outspread
hands, and look into my brothers' open mouths.
"Ha, ha, ha!" one brother interrupts the other.
"What piece of news are you telling me here, you
"But I saw it with my own eyes!"
"You stupid fool, you think that because you saw
it, it was true? I know that man better than you do,
It is gay when my brothers are about I am never
afraid. I envy them. They can go wherever they want
to; mother won't scold them. But I? Where shall I
take myself? To the kitchen? I am weary of the
kitchen. All day long it is saturated with all kinds of
food. And it must be dark there, with the little lamp.
No, I won't go to the kitchen.
Shall I go to the shop? There It is certainly light
and cheerful But the moment I stick out my head
from behind the curtain, they will yell at me: "What
do you want? Go home! We've got plenty to do
I am always a nuisance. This I must leave alone,
there I must not creep in. So I drop the curtain and
take myself away. I stumble into the entrance hall. I
see my coat hanging on the half-dark wall. My white
hood protrudes from its sleeve. Should I try perhaps
to go out into the street?
Half -dressed, I run down the staircase that leads to
the balcony. A tall, dark stairway looms up behind
my back, like a black snake.
Quickly I push open the big door. A white, snowy
path opens up before me like a sky. The cold tickles
my nose. A thin snow scatters fresh, light little pearls.
I fill myself with the fresh air as if it were water. It is
quiet in the street the snow has buried all the voices.
In the white, snow-covered lanterns frozen little
flames are burning. The drivers stand at the curb like
mounds of snow. Their horses seem not to be breath
ing under their wet sacking. They scarcely seem alive.
Only a few people are walking in the street. The
white snow creaks under their feet. I start walking too.
I run along the wide street. From a distance I see a
big, lighted courtyard. In the middle of the courtyard
there is a two-story house. Through its windows one
sees long, spacious rooms wedding halls.
Every night a wedding is celebrated here. Even
from outside, the house looks like a lofty hall. Two
large candelabras hang high in the air; like two lions
they hold up the balcony. Today too there must be a
wedding. Whose would it be?
The snow is falling around me, thicker and thicker.
A ball of snow drops from a candelabra. It splashes
like a tear at rny feet.
I hear steps. Who is coming? I watch. People are
approaching from a gate. They are dragging a large
copper siphon tank that sprawls like an uncouth ani
mal on the shoulders of a couple of men. They come
closer. A little stream of soda water spatters into my
face. I jump up. Should I laugh or cry?
"I don't bother you, what have you against me?"
And I sneeze into their faces.
"Ha, ha, ha! A strange girl she likes weddings and
washes herself with soda water!" They whinny.
Waiters come, one after another. They carry vari
ous things, one a soft cake that still gives off its
warmth, another a jar of pickles that gurgles in his
hands; still another bears pans containing large sponge
Tables are dragged in. Wide boards sway in the air
between pairs of legs.
"What are you carrying?" I want to see every
"Do we know? It is all kinds of foods chalks,
stuffed fish, whatever your heart desires, little girl,"
the merry waiters say, smacking their dry lips.
I move to one side to let them pass. Doors fly open
before them. The tables, as they push them in, blow
the cold air to all sides. Chairs stand scattered along
the walls. One corner is fenced off with palms, like a
little garden. Under their green shadows stands a. tall
chair, rising high like a throne. A red rug lies there.
The tall chair is waiting. What bride will sit in it
I look at the chair. It is an old man with sunken
cheeks. From its emaciated cushion sparse fringes
How many brides have sat on that cushion? Each
bride has left in it her fear and her tremblings.
All the other chairs can be moved about, but the
high throne with its sunken cushion stands in one
spot, waiting. What is it waiting for? It is waiting as
for a light in the darkness for the white bride.
Not until the bride comes will the chair come to
life. It will breathe, it will fill itself with air and
whiteness. The carved heads on its back will bend
toward the bride. And when the bride sighs, the chair
will utter a groan. And when the bride melts into
tears, the chair will embrace her with its uplifted
arms, because the bride, whether she is pretty or ugly,
will burst into tears in its arms and readily pour out
The chair is read. As the bride raises her hand-
kerchief to her eyes, the chair will absorb her warm
tears and store them in the old wood. But only a deli
cate chink, a tiny little hole will be bored in the chair.
The bride who will sit in- it tomorrow will not know
anything of the tears of today's bride. For she does
not see anything; she approaches the chair as though
she were blind, with lowered eyes. When she sits
down, her white veil is spread over the chair. And as
if she were lifted on two wings, she is suspended in
the air, ready to run away to another world. And so
the bride does not feel the tears of her sister of yester
day. She sheds her tears on the old chair and leaves
her bit of weeping heart.
But where is she, the bride? The tall chair still
stands empty. It is embarrassed. Everyone is a little
afraid of it. People take a detour around it.
Women jostle one another in the halls as though
they had lost their way.
"I wish the ceremony were already over. May it
bring good fortune. This day is somehow dragging as
though it were made of pitch."
"What do you say? A pretty little bride, eh? She
really deserves to be blessed by God!"
"Amen, so be it, may she be happy!" the women
whisper, breathing heavily in their smoothly ironed
But why hasn't she come? She is probably still at
home. She is being dressed in white. Her black hair
has already been brushed, braided into a coronet.
Young, white hands, and older hands, furrowed with
veins, fuss over her hair.
"Hand me a pin! Have you got a pin?" one
woman asks another.
"Come, Manichke, you're well educated you'll be
better at pinning the veil on the hair/' they call to
What does she look like, the bride? Isn't a bride
just a long white dress that drags over the ground like
a living thing, with an airy veil floating after her?
Through it, seen as through glass, the bride looks re
mote, far off .
Perhaps even now she is riding through the dark
streets. Her veil falls from the narrow sleigh and
merges with the blue snow. Her old mother is coming
with her, holding her fast she does not want to let
her flesh and blood go from her arms. Was she not
once also a bride, so white, so young? The sleigh
"Are you not cold, my child? Take care, don't
I too begin to feel cold. I see something has blown
past the windows, as though a silken dress had gone
by. Have I missed the bride then?
I look around. Waiters spread broad white table
cloths, which fall with a rustle on the long tables.
They spread in a flood, they cover the black floor
beneath them. The waiters laugh, run, jostle one an
other. Plates, spoons, forks clatter on the tables,
"Let the stuffed fish pass!" a scrawny fellow sings
out and wriggles like a fish; on his tray there glistens a
"And my chopped liver!" another waiter shouts.
"Here is a dish of petcha, make way, make way!"
The helpers push about.
Around me is the stir of guests arriving. The stairs
groan under their feet. Every woman who comes in
fills the air with her panting breath. I squeeze my way
through them. I run down to the balcony. I would
rather wait here for the bride. I want to see how she
will jump down out of the air and put her feet on the
ground. I hide in a corner. People's furs shake their
collars full of snow down on me. White beards turn
black. From wet woolen shawls there protrude
women's fluffed wigs little women studded with
flowers and pearls. Single snowflakes like little dia
monds remain gleaming in their hair.
The snow is melting under my feet. I feel wet and
cold. A sleigh glides up to the balcony. Is this not the
A couple of stuffed sacks roll out from it little
girls with red little faces.
"Oof!" They blow into their gloves.
Their tangled shawls unroll. Bare shoulders, naked
arms appear, and dazzling pink and blue dresses.
These must be the bride's sisters. They flutter in all
directions. They squeal. "Rose," shrills one, "see how
pretty it is here! Oh, so much light! I don't see any
"Rivke, quick, look up what's going on up there?"
"That's right, children, go up to the hall. You
might catch cold here God forbid!" The older
women push them away.
Indeed, the women need this room for themselves.
Their fox mantles fall from their shoulders like gates
opened wide. The furs twist about and smack me
with their warm tails.
No one pays any attention to me. They know there
is a little girl here wrapped in her hood; she stands
like a stranger and looks on. I feel embarrassed. I look
at my weekday dress. A pity that I did not change
into another dress! I look up to the lower stair; under
the raised skirts one can see long white stockings
reaching up to the buttocks. Let them have a good
time, the short little girls, let them jump with their
white legs! I cannot restrain my tears.
I am annoyed because I am not one of the invited
guests at the wedding. I would have been dressed in
my pink silk dress. Sasha would have brushed my
long pigtails and tied them with a flowered ribbon.
My dress would lift lightly as soon as I stood on the
tips of my black patent leather shoes. When the music
began, I would stand in the middle of the hall and
shove my feet as a little goat snuggles its feet into
If I had come with my brother Abrashke, we
would be asked to dance a pas de qnatre. "Be so kind
as to move aside a bit," they would say. "Let the chil
dren dance. It's such a pleasure to watch them!"
All the guests sit in a circle about the hall, making a
ring with their outspread skirts. I bend one leg. My
shoulder too is bent, as though I were falling. Then I
glance at Abrashke, and at once rise on the tips of my
toes and look in another direction. Abrashke holds me
fast. Several times we bend and rise again. The little
violin plays. Suddenly a drum begins to sound. The
lamps blaze brighter. I do not see any faces. Only the
women's bellies sway in rhythm. They smile while
they do this, trying to help us as we dance. We seem
to be carried away in the air. I throw back my di
sheveled hair, like a shadow that has crept into my
Then the music goes drunk and pounds out a ma
zurka. There is no way of holding back one's legs.
Abrashke stamps his feet and tosses me in all direc
tions. It seems to me that we have jumped over the
hall, that we are dancing somewhere else. The ma
zurka stops as suddenly as it began. We remain
Hands drag us toward them.
"How old are you, little girl? Ah, but this is Alta's
youngest!" And they stroke our necks.
"May they be spared from the evil eye, good chil
dren as they are! That a boy should be able to dance
so well!" And they pinch our cheeks.
The music has stopped, as though forever. I feel
cold. The air is gradually cooling. A cold wind has
begun to blow into my face. I am still standing at the
open door. It has opened wide. Through it comes a
mountain of snow. The mountain straightens up and
scatters snow like rain. A tall man grows out of the
"Well, it's Bashke! What are you doing here?
Hasn't the bride come yet? Let's go upstairs. Why
are you standing here in such cold? Ooh!" He blows
on his frozen hands. "What, Bashinke, you don't
recognize me? Wait, some day I'll lead you to the
canopy too!" And he bursts into laughter.
Everything shakes about him. I look at his Adam's
apple jumping up and down. Of course I know him
he is the jester. I stand waiting for the bride, and he
has come for the wedding.
He takes me upstairs. He inhales the wedding air
through his long nose. His ears dance. He shakes his
head. His head is all tuned like a violin, ready to be
played. Then why does everyone burst into tears
when he, who is merry, calls out, "Let us bless the
He gets into your soul with his voice. He knows
everyone's family. He knows every aunt, every
cousin. He knows whether the bride has a father, a
mother. He knows what is happening in everyone's
life, what is going on in anyone's heart. As though he
had a rope in his hand, he pulls each person into the
middle of the hall and plays on him as on chords. One
by one he calls out the names of those who must bless
the bride. The name echoes for a long timeuntil the
aunt who has been called heavily crosses the big
room. Is she still on her way? She totters a little, as if
she were full to the brim of benedictions.
When the jester raises his voice, everyone's heart is
crushed. His voice trembles even more, and everyone
is frightened, as though the aunt were approaching a
The lighted candles held around the bride are
quivering. The bride sits like a frightened white bird.
The aunt comes closer, raises her arms as when she
blesses the Sabbath candles. The bride lowers her
head even more. Blindly she gropes for her hand
kerchief. Now her soul will surge up and pour itself
forth in bitter tears.
Her aunt pities her. She does not touch her. She
blesses her from a distance, like a star. The jester looks
at everyone, quickly calls out other names. People
catch their breath, blow their noses.
All the guests comfort the bride. They cool her
with fans. They straighten out her veil, which has
twisted awry on her head. They blow at the hair that
sticks to her forehead because she is perspiring.
Squeezing my hand, the jester drags me up the
"What are you doing? What are you doing?" he
quacks, as soon as he appears in the doorway of the
The circles of women disperse. I slink along the
What is that? I rush to the door* A white cloud
rises from the stairs. A light wind begins to blow. A
little violin cuts the white air and curls it into a sweet
melody. The cymbals and the dram have slipped in,
Now she has come, the white bride, light as air.
With every step she takes, her heart lifts. The musi
cians play above, below, at the side. They cushion her
path. On the last step she stops. Should she go farther?
People have crowded back to the walls. Even if she
were blind she could walk to her throne. She looks at
her white slippers gliding like boats over the floor.
I stand glued to other people's backs. We push one
another as though we wanted to roll the bride up to
the high shore.
At some distance a row of men is drawn up. They
are dressed in black. At the head of them a young
man walks with trembling steps. His high hat too
trembles on his head. He comes closer to the bride's
whiteness. The bride, it seems, is afraid of him, and
he of the bride.
In our hands we hold gaily colored confetti. The
jester sings. The men accompanying the bridegroom
come closer and closer. The red rug is now entirely
covered with black shoes. The bride draws herself up
and waits. We keep behind her. The bridegroom with
one twist of his hands throws her white veil over her;
he might be throwing it over himself as if he were
lifted in the air with his bride.
We scatter our confetti on him, like stars from
heaven. We scatter it on ourselves.
Like a cloud covering the black floor, the bride re
mains alone. We rush to her. We no longer see her
face. She is supported at her arms, at her sides.
A little red sky has spread in the middle of the hall.
It is supported on big poles. The bride, almost faint
ing, is led to the canopy.
Afikoimeti (H, afikoman) the piece of matzah eaten at the
conclusion of the seder. The afikoman is hidden by the
father, later to be "stolen" by the children
Balebos (H, baal ha-bayit) the head of the family; a house
Baleboste (F) the mother of the house; a hostess
Barinke (7) lady
Bar-mizvah (H) a boy who on reaching his thirteenth year
becomes a "son of the commandment," i.e., reaches re
Challa (H, challah) the white bread eaten at Sabbath and
Charoset (H) the mixture of ground nuts, fruits, and
spices, symbolizing mortar, eaten at the seder
Cheder (H) elementary Jewish school
Chometz (H, chametz) leavened bread, proscribed at
Chumash (H) the Five Books of Moses (Pentateuch)
Etrog (H) a citrus fruit used in the synagogue at Sukkot;
Gabbai (H) a collector; a director of the synagogue
Gemara (Aramaic) a part of the Talmud
H indicates that the word or phrase is derived from the Hebrew,
Y that it is from Yiddish.
Goy (H) nation; gentile
Goyish (F) gentile (adj.)
Gute Woch (F) "A good week": greeting at the con
clusion of the Sabbath
Gut yom-tov (Y) "A good holiday": holiday greeting
Haggadah (H) the book containing the story of the
exodus from Egypt, read at the seder
Hakkafot (H) the carrying of the Torah in procession on
Hanukkah (H, Chanukkah) the Feast of Lights, com
memorating the rededication of the Temple by the
Havdalah (H) the benediction at the conclusion of the
Sabbath and holidays
Kapporeh, pi. kappores (H, kapparot) "atonement": on the
eve of the Day of Atonement each member of the house
hold swings a fowl over his head while reciting penitential
prayers. After this the fowl is slaughtered and the value
of it given to the poor
Kiddush (H, sanctification) the benediction at the com
mencement of the Sabbath and holidays
Kittel (F) a ceremonial garment
Kosher (H, kasher) fit for consumption according to the
dietary laws; proper; in accordance with Jewish ritual
Le-chayim (H ) "For life": a toast with wine or spirits
Machzor (H) a holiday prayer book
Mah-nishtahah (H) "What is the difference": the phrase
introducing the four questions asked by the youngest
child at the seder
Maror (H) the bitter herbs eaten at the seder
Matzah (H) the unleavened bread eaten during Passover
Matzah shemurah (H) unleavened bread prepared with
especially strict observance of the Passover regulations
Megillah (H ) scroll, in particular the scroll of Esther
Melammed (H) a teacher, especially in an elementary
Mezuzah (H) the scroll inscribed with biblical texts that
is attached to the doorpost in the Jewish home
Mikvah (H) ritual bath
Mi-sheberach (H) "He who has blessed": introductory
words of a benediction
Musaf (H) the additional prayer recited on the Sabbath,
New Moon, and holidays
Pesach (H) the Passover
Purim (H) "casting of lots": the holiday commemorating
Raboisai (H, rabbotai) gentlemen
Reb (Y) a colloquial title of address
Rebbe (H, rabbi) rabbi, teacher
Rebbetzin (F) a rabbi's wife
Rosh ha-Shanah (H) the New Year
Seder (H) "order": the ceremony carried out in the home
on the first two nights of Passover
Selichot (H) prayers for forgiveness on the days preced
ing Rosh ha-Shanah and between Rosh ha-Shanah and
Shabbes (H, Shabbat) Sabbath
Shalesh sudes (H, shalosh seudot) the three meals of the
Sabbath; usually the third meal eaten on the Sabbath
Shames (H, shammash) the caretaker of a synagogue
Shehecheyanu (H ) "He who has sustained us": a benedic
tion on special occasions
Shemoneh Esreh (H) the Eighteen Benedictions in the
three daily services
Shikse (7) a gentile maid
Shkutsim (F) rascals
Shochet (H) a slaughterer according to the Jewish law
Shofar (H) the rani's horn sounded on Rosh ha-Shanah
Shul (7) a synagogue
Siddur (H) the order of prayers; a prayer book
Simchat Torah (H) the Feast of the Rejoicing of the Law
Sukkah (H) a hut inhabited on the Sukkot days, to com
memorate the wandering in the desert
Sukkot (H) the Feast of Tabernacles
Talis (H 3 tallit) a prayer shawl; pi talesirn
Talis-koton (H) a small tallit worn as an undergarment
Tashlich (H) a ceremony carried out on Rosh ha-Shanah,
symbolizing the casting off of sins
Tefillin (H) phylacteries, ie., scrolls inscribed with bibli
cal texts that are worn on the arm and head during the
daily morning worship
Tishah b'av (H) Ninth Day of Av: a fast commemorating
the destruction of the Temple
Torah (H) Book of the Law; the Bible, especially the
Tref (H, terefah) forbidden food
Trefniak (Y) one who eats forbidden food
Yehudim (H) Jews
Yom Kippur (H) the Day of Atonement
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